The Rise of the Dutch Republic/Part 2/Chapter 7
Ecclesiastical architecture in the Netherlands — The image-breaking — Description of Antwerp Cathedral — Ceremony of the Ommegang — Precursory disturbances — Iconoclasts at Antwerp — Incidents of the image — breaking in various cities — Events at Tournay — Preaching of Wille — Disturbance by a little boy — Churches sacked at Tournay — Disinterment of Duke Adolphus of Gueldres — Iconoclasts defeated and massacred at Anchin — Bartholomew's Day at Valenciennes — General characteristics of the image-breaking — Testimony of contemporaries as to the honesty of the rioters — Consternation of the Duchess — Projected flight to Mons — Advice of Horn and other seigniors — Accord of 25th August.
The Netherlands possessed an extraordinary number of churches and monasteries. Their exquisite architecture and elaborate decoration had been the earliest indication of intellectual culture displayed in the country. In the vast number of cities, towns, and villages which were crowded upon that narrow territory, there had been, from circumstances operating throughout Christendom, a great accumulation of ecclesiastical wealth. The same causes can never exist again which at an early day covered the soil of Europe with those magnificent creations of Christian art. It was in these anonymous but entirely original achievements that Gothic genius; awaking from its long sleep of the dark ages, first expressed itself. The early poetry of the German races was hewn and chiselled in atone. Around the steadfast principle of devotion then so firmly rooted in the soil, clustered the graceful and vigorous emanations of the newly-awakened mind. All that science could invent, all that art could embody, all that mechanical ingenuity could dare, all that wealth could lavish, whatever there was of human energy which was panting for pacific utterance, wherever there stirred the vital principle which instinctively strove to create and to adorn at an epoch when vulgar violence and destructiveness were the general tendencies of humanity, all gathered around these magnificent temples, as their aspiring pinnacles at last pierced the mist which had so long brooded over the world.
There were many hundreds of churches, more or less remarkable, in the Netherlands. Although a severe criticism might regret to find in these particular productions of the great Germanic school a development of that practical tendency which distinguished the Batavian and Flemish branches,—although it might recognize a departure from that mystic principle which, in its efforts to symbolize the strivings of humanity towards the infinite object of worship above, had somewhat disregarded the wants of the worshippers below,—although the spaces might be too wide and the intercolumniations too empty, except for the convenience of congregations; yet there were, nevertheless, many ecclesiastical masterpieces, which could be regarded as very brilliant manifestations of the Batavian and Belgic mind during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Many were filled with paintings from a school which had precedence in time and merit over its sister nurseries of art in Germany. All were peopled with statues. All were filled with profusely-adorned chapels, for the churches had been enriched generation after generation by wealthy penitence, which had thus purchased absolution for crime and smoothed a pathway to heaven.
And now, for the space of only six or seven summer days and nights, there raged a storm by which all these treasures were destroyed. Nearly every one of these temples was entirely rifled of its contents; not for the purpose of plunder, but of destruction. Hardly a province or a town escaped. Art must forever weep over this bereavement; Humanity must regret that the reforming is thus always ready to degenerate into the destructive principle; but it is impossible to censure very severely the spirit which prompted the brutal, but not ferocious deed. Those statues, associated as they were with the remorseless persecution which had so long desolated the provinces, had ceased to be images. They had grown human and hateful, so that the people arose and devoted them to indiscriminate massacre.
No doubt the iconoclastic fury is to be regretted; for such treasures can scarcely be renewed. The age for building and decorating great cathedrals is past. Certainly, our own age, practical and benevolent, if less poetical, should occupy itself with the present, and project itself into the future. It should render glory to God rather by causing wealth to fertilize the lowest valleys of humanity, than by rearing gorgeous temples where paupers are to kneel. To clothe the naked, redeem the criminal, feed the hungry, less by alms and homilies than by preventive institutions and beneficent legislation; above all, by the diffusion of national education, to lift a race upon a level of culture hardly attained by a class in earlier times, is as lofty a task as to accumulate piles of ecclesiastical splendor.
It would be tedious to recount in detail the events which characterized the remarkable image-breaking in the Netherlands. As Antwerp was the central point in these transactions, and as there was more wealth and magnificence in the great cathedral of that city than in any church of northern Europe, it is necessary to give a rapid outline of the events which occurred there. From its exhibition in that place the spirit every where will best be shown.
The Church of Our Lady, which Philip had so recently converted into a cathedral, dated from the year 1124, although it may be more fairly considered a work of the fourteenth century. Its college of canons had been founded in another locality by Godfrey of Bouillon. The Brabantine hero, who so romantically incarnates the religious poetry of his age, who first mounted the walls of redeemed Jerusalem, and was its first Christian monarch, but who refused to accept a golden diadem on the spot where the Saviour had been crowned with thorns; the Fleming who lived and was the epic which the great Italian, centuries afterwards; translated into immortal verse, is thus fitly associated with the beautiful architectural poem which was to grace his ancestral realms. The body of the church, the interior and graceful perspectives of which were not liable to the reproach brought against many Netherland churches, of assimilating themselves already to the municipal palaces which they were to suggest—was completed in the fourteenth century. The beautiful facade, with its tower, was not completed till the year 1518. The exquisite and daring spire, the gigantic stem upon which the consummate flower of this architectural creation was to be at last unfolded, was a plant of a whole century's growth. Rising to a height of nearly five hundred feet, over a church of as many feet in length, it worthily represented the upward tendency of Gothic architecture. Externally and internally the cathedral was a true expression of the Christian principle of devotion. Amid its vast accumulation of imagery, its endless ornaments, its multiplicity of episodes, its infinite variety of details, the central, maternal principle was ever visible. Every thing pointed upwards, from the spire in the clouds to the arch which enshrined the smallest sculptured saint in the chapels below. It was a sanctuary, not like pagan temples, to enclose a visible deity, but an edifice where mortals might worship an unseen Being in the realms above.
The church, placed in the centre of the city, with the noisy streets of the busiest metropolis in Europe eddying around its walls, was a sacred island in the tumultuous main. Through the perpetual twilight, tall columnar trunks in thick profusion grew from a floor chequered with prismatic lights and sepulchral shadows. Each shaft of the petrified forest rose to a preternatural height, their many branches intermingling in the space above, to form an impenetrable canopy. Foliage, flowers and fruit of colossal luxuriance, strange birds, beasts, griffins and chimeras in endless multitudes, the rank vegetation and the fantastic zoology of a fresher or fabulous world, seemed to decorate and to animate the serried trunks and pendant branches, while the shattering symphonies or dying murmurs of the organ suggested the rushing of the wind through the forest, now the full diapason of the storm and now the gentle cadence of the evening breeze.
Internally, the whole church was rich beyond expression. All that opulent devotion and inventive ingenuity could devise, in wood, bronze, marble, silver, gold, precious jewelry, or blazing sacramental furniture, had been profusely lavished. The penitential tears of centuries had incrusted the whole interior with their glittering stalactites. Divided into five naves, with external rows of chapels, but separated by no screens or partitions, the great temple forming an imposing whole, the effect was the more impressive, the vistas almost infinite in appearance. The wealthy citizens, the twenty-seven guilds, the six military associations, the rhythmical colleges, besides many other secular or religious sodalities, had each their own chapels and altars. Tombs adorned with the effigies of mailed crusaders and pious dames covered the floor, tattered banners hung in the air, the escutcheons of the Golden Fleece, an order typical of Flemish industry, but of which Emperors and Kings were proud to be the chevaliers, decorated the columns. The vast and beautifully-painted windows glowed with scriptural scenes, antique portraits, homely allegories, painted in those brilliant and forgotten colors which Art has not ceased to deplore. The daylight melting into gloom or colored with fantastic brilliancy, priests in effulgent robes chanting in unknown language, the sublime breathing of choral music, the suffocating odors of myrrh and spikenard, suggestive of the oriental scenery and imagery of Holy Writ, all combined to bewilder and exalt the senses. The highest and humblest seemed to find themselves upon the same level within those sacred precincts, where even the bloodstained criminal was secure, and the arm of secular justice was paralyzed.
But the work of degeneration had commenced. The atmosphere of the cathedral was no longer holy in the eyes of increasing multitudes. Better the sanguinary rites of Belgic Druids, better the yell of slaughtered victims from the "wild wood without mercy" of the pagan forefathers of the nation, than this fantastic intermingling of divine music, glowing colors, gorgeous ceremonies, with all the burning, beheading and strangling work which had characterized the system of human sacrifice for the past half-century.
Such was the church of Notre Dame at Antwerp. Thus indifferent or hostile towards the architectural treasure were the inhabitants of a city, where in a previous age the whole population would have risked their lives to defend what they esteemed the pride and garland of their metropolis.
The Prince of Orange had been anxiously solicited by the Regent to attend the conference at Duffel. After returning to Antwerp, he consented, in consequence of the urgent entreaties of the senate, to delay his departure until the 18th of August should be past. On the 13th of that month he had agreed with the magistrates upon an ordinance, which was accordingly published, and by which the preachings were restricted to the fields. A deputation of merchants and others waited upon him with a request to be permitted the exercises of the Reformed religion in the city. This petition the Prince peremptorily refused, and the deputies, as well as their constituents, acquiesced in the decision, "out of especial regard and respect for his person." He, however, distinctly informed the Duchess that it would be difficult or impossible to maintain such a position long, and that his departure from the city would probably be followed by an outbreak. He warned her that it was very imprudent for him to leave Antwerp at that particular juncture. Nevertheless, the meeting of the Fleece-knights seemed, in Margaret's opinion, imperatively to require his presence in Brussels. She insisted by repeated letters that he should leave Antwerp immediately.
Upon the 18th August, the great and time-honored ceremony of the Ommegang occurred. Accordingly, the great procession, the principal object of which was to conduct around the city a colossal image of the Virgin, issued as usual from the door of the cathedral. The image, bedizened and effulgent, was borne aloft upon the shoulders of her adorers, followed by the guilds, the military associations, the rhetoricians, the religious sodalities, all in glittering costume, bearing blazoned banners, and marching triumphantly through the streets with sound of trumpet and beat of drum. The pageant, solemn but noisy, was exactly such a show as was most fitted at that moment to irritate Protestant minds and to lead to mischief. No violent explosion of ill-feeling, however, took place. The procession was followed by a rabble rout of scoffers, but they confined themselves to words and insulting gestures. The image was incessantly saluted, as she was borne along—the streets, with sneers, imprecations, and the rudest, ribaldry. "Mayken! Mayken!" (little Mary) "your hour is come. 'Tis your last promenade. The city is tired of you." Such were the greetings which the representative of the Holy Virgin received from men grown weary of antiquated mummery. A few missiles were thrown occasionally at the procession as it passed through the city, but no damage was inflicted. When the image was at last restored to its place, and the pageant brought to a somewhat hurried conclusion, there seemed cause for congratulation that no tumult had occurred.
On the following morning there was a large crowd collected in front of the cathedral. The image, instead of standing in the centre of the church, where, upon all former occasions, it had been accustomed during the week succeeding the ceremony to receive congratulatory, visits, was now ignominiously placed behind an iron railing within the choir. It had been deemed imprudent to leave it exposed to sacrilegious hands. The precaution excited derision. Many vagabonds of dangerous appearance, many idle apprentices and ragged urchins were hanging for a long time about the imprisoned image, peeping through the railings, and indulging in many a brutal jest. "Mayken! Mayken!" they cried; "art thou terrified so soon? Hast flown to thy nest so early? Dost think thyself beyond the reach of mischief? Beware, Mayken! thine hour is fast approaching!" Others thronged around the balustrade, shouting "Vivent les gueux!" and hoarsely commanding the image to join in the beggars' cry. Then, leaving the spot, the mob roamed idly about the magnificent church, sneering at the idols, execrating the gorgeous ornaments, scoffing at crucifix and altar.
Presently one of the rabble, a ragged fellow of mechanical aspect, in a tattered black doublet and an old straw hat, ascended the pulpit. Opening a sacred volume which he found there, he began to deliver an extemporaneous and coarse caricature of a monkish sermon. Some of the bystanders applauded, some cried shame, some shouted "long live the beggars!" some threw sticks and rubbish at the mountebank, some caught him by the legs and strove to pull him from the place. He, on the other hand, manfully maintained his ground, hurling back every missile, struggling with his assailants, and continuing the while to pour forth a malignant and obscene discourse. At last a young sailor, warm in the Catholic Faith, and impulsive as mariners are prone to be, ascended the pulpit from behind, sprang upon the mechanic, and flung him headlong down the steps. The preacher grappled with his enemy as he fell, and both came rolling to the ground. Neither was much injured, but a tumult ensued. A pistol-shot was fired, and the sailor wounded in the arm. Daggers were drawn, cudgels brandished, the bystanders taking part generally against the sailor, while those who protected him were somewhat bruised and belabored before they could convey him out of the church. Nothing more, however, transpired that day, and the keepers of the cathedral were enabled to expel the crowd and to close the doors for the night.
Information of this tumult was brought to the senate, then assembled in the Hotel de Ville. That body was thrown into a state of great perturbation. In losing the Prince of Orange, they seemed to have lost their own brains, and the first measure which they took was to despatch a messenger to implore his return. In the mean time, it was necessary that they should do something for themselves. It was evident that a storm was brewing. The pest which was sweeping so rapidly through the provinces would soon be among them. Symptoms of the dreaded visitation were already but too manifest. What precaution should: they take? Should they issue a proclamation? Such documents had been too common of late, and had lost their virtue. It was the time not to assert but to exercise authority. Should they summon the ward-masters, and order the instant arming and mustering of their respective companies? Should they assemble the captains of the Military associations? Nothing better could have been desired than such measures in cases of invasion or of ordinary tumult, but who should say how deeply the poison had sunk into the body politic; who should say with how much or how little alacrity the burgher militia would obey the mandates of the magistracy? It would be better to issue no proclamation unless they could enforce its provisions; it would be better not to call out the citizen soldiery unless they were likely to prove obedient. Should mercenary troops at this late hour be sent for? Would not their appearance at this crisis rather inflame the rage than intimidate the insolence of the sectaries? Never were magistrates in greater perplexity. They knew not what course was likely to prove the safest, and in their anxiety to do nothing wrong, the senators did nothing at all. After a long and anxious consultation, the honest burgomaster and his associates all went home to their beds, hoping that the threatening flame of civil tumult would die out of itself, or perhaps that their dreams would supply them with that wisdom which seemed denied to their waking hours.
In the morning, as it was known that no precaution had been taken, the audacity of the Reformers was naturally increased. Within the cathedral a great crowd was at an early hour collected, whose savage looks and ragged appearance denoted that the day and night were not likely to pass away so peacefully as the last. The same taunts and imprecations were hurled at the image of the Virgin; the same howling of the beggars' cry resounded through the lofty arches. For a few hours, no act of violence was committed, but the crowd increased. A few trifles, drifting, as usual, before the event, seemed to indicate the approaching convulsion. A very paltry old woman excited the image-breaking of Antwerp. She had for years been accustomed to sit before the door of the cathedral with wax-tapers and wafers, earning scanty subsistence from the profits of her meagre trade, and by the small coins which she sometimes received in charity. Some of the rabble began to chaffer with this ancient hucksteress. They scoffed at her consecrated wares; they bandied with her ribald jests, of which her public position had furnished her with a supply; they assured her that the hour had come when her idolatrous traffic was to be forever terminated, when she and her patroness, Mary, were to be given over to destruction together. The old woman, enraged, answered threat with threat, and gibe with gibe. Passing from words to deeds, she began to catch from the ground every offensive missile or weapon which she could find, and to lay about her in all directions. Her tormentors defended themselves as they could. Having destroyed her whole stock-in-trade, they provoked others to appear in her defence. The passers-by thronged to the scene; the cathedral was soon filled to overflowing; a furious tumult was already in progress.
Many persons fled in alarm to the town-house, carrying information of this outbreak to the magistrates. John Van Immerzeel, Margrava of Antwerp, was then holding communication with the senate, and awaiting the arrival of the ward-masters, whom it had at last been thought expedient to summon. Upon intelligence of this riot, which the militia, if previously mustered, might have prevented, the senate determined to proceed to the cathedral in a body, with the hope of quelling the mob by the dignity of their presence. The margrave, who was the high executive officer of the little commonwealth, marched down to the cathedral accordingly, attended by the two burgomasters and all the senators. At first their authority, solicitations, and personal influence, produced a good effect. Some of those outside consented to retire, and the tumult partially subsided within. As night, however, was fast approaching, many of the mob insisted upon remaining for evening mass. They were informed that there would be none that night, and that for once the people could certainly dispense with their vespers.
Several persons now manifesting an intention of leaving the cathedral, it was suggested to the senators that if, they should lead the way, the populace would follow in their train, and so disperse to their homes. The excellent magistrates took the advice, not caring, perhaps, to fulfil any longer the dangerous but not dignified functions of police officers. Before departing, they adopted the precaution of closing all the doors of the church, leaving a single one open, that the rabble still remaining might have an opportunity to depart. It seemed not to occur to the senators that the same gate would as conveniently afford an entrance for those without as an egress for those within. That unlooked-for event happened, however. No sooner had the magistrates retired than the rabble burst through the single door which had been left open, overpowered the margrave, who, with a few attendants, had remained behind, vainly endeavoring by threats and exhortations to appease the tumult, drove him ignominiously from the church, and threw all the other portals wide open. Then the populace flowed in like an angry sea. The whole of the cathedral was at the mercy of the rioters, who were evidently bent on mischief. The wardens and treasurers of the church, after a vain attempt to secure a few of its most precious possessions, retired. They carried the news to the senators, who, accompanied by a few halberdmen, again ventured to approach the spot. It was but for a moment, however, for, appalled by the furious sounds which came from within the church, as if subterranean and invisible forces were preparing a catastrophe which no human power could withstand, the magistrates fled precipitately from the scene. Fearing that the next attack would be upon the town-house, they hastened to concentrate at that point their available forces, and left the stately cathedral to its fate.
And now, as the shadows of night were deepening the perpetual twilight of the church, the work of destruction commenced. Instead of evening mass rose the fierce music of a psalm, yelled by a thousand angry voices. It seemed the preconcerted signal for a general attack. A band of marauders flew upon the image of the Virgin, dragged it forth from its receptacle, plunged daggers into its inanimate body, tore off its jewelled and embroidered garments, broke the whole figure into a thousand pieces, and scattered the fragments along the floor. A wild shout succeeded, and then the work which seemed delegated to a comparatively small number of the assembled crowd, went on with incredible celerity. Some were armed with axes, some with bludgeons, some with sledge-hammers; others brought ladders, pulleys, ropes, and levers. Every statue was hurled from its niche, every picture torn from the wall, every wonderfully-painted window shivered to atoms, every ancient monument shattered, every sculptured decoration, however inaccessible in appearance, hurled to the ground. Indefatigably, audaciously,—endowed, as it seemed, with preternatural strength and nimbleness, these furious iconoclasts clambered up the dizzy heights, shrieking and chattering like malignant apes, as they tore off in triumph the slowly-matured fruit of centuries. In a space of time wonderfully brief, they had accomplished their task.
A colossal and magnificent group of the Saviour crucified between two thieves adorned the principal altar. The statue of Christ was wrenched from its place with ropes and pulleys, while the malefactors, with bitter and blasphemous irony, were left on high, the only representatives of the marble crowd which had been destroyed. A very beautiful piece of architecture decorated the choir,—the "repository," as it was called, in which the body of Christ was figuratively enshrined. This much-admired work rested upon a single column, but rose, arch upon arch, pillar upon pillar, to the height of three hundred feet, till quite lost in the vault above. "It was now shattered into a million pieces." The statues, images, pictures, ornaments, as they lay upon the ground, were broken with sledge-hammers, hewn with axes, trampled, torn; and beaten into shreds. A troop of harlots, snatching waxen tapers from the altars, stood around the destroyers and lighted them at their work. Nothing escaped their omnivorous rage. They desecrated seventy chapels, forced open all the chests of treasure, covered their own squalid attire with the gorgeous robes of the ecclesiastics, broke the sacred bread, poured out the sacramental wine into golden chalices, quaffing huge draughts to the beggars' health; burned all the splendid missals and manuscripts, and smeared their shoes with the sacred oil, with which kings and prelates had been anointed. It seemed that each of these malicious creatures must have been endowed with the strength of a hundred giants. How else, in the few brief hours of a midsummer night, could such a monstrous desecration have been accomplished by a troop which, according to all accounts, was not more than one hundred in number. There was a multitude of spectators, as upon all such occasions, but the actual spoilers were very few.
The noblest and richest temple of the Netherlands was a wreck, but the fury of the spoilers was excited, not appeased. Each seizing a burning torch, the whole herd rushed from the cathedral, and swept howling through the streets. "Long live the beggars!" resounded through the sultry midnight air, as the ravenous pack flew to and fro, smiting every image of the Virgin, every crucifix, every sculptured saint, every Catholic symbol which they met with upon their path. All night long, they roamed from one sacred edifice to another, thoroughly destroying as they went. Before morning they had sacked thirty churches within the city walls. They entered the monasteries, burned their invaluable libraries, destroyed their altars, statues, pictures, and descending into the cellars, broached every cask which they found there, pouring out in one great flood all the ancient wine and ale with which those holy men had been wont to solace their retirement from generation to generation. They invaded the nunneries, whence the occupants, panic-stricken, fled for refuge to the houses of their friends and kindred. The streets were filled with monks and nuns, running this way and that, shrieking and fluttering, to escape the claws of these fiendish Calvinists. The terror was imaginary, for not the least remarkable feature in these transactions was, that neither insult nor injury was offered to man or woman, and that not a farthing's value of the immense amount of property destroyed, was appropriated. It was a war not against the living, but against graven images, nor was the sentiment which prompted the onslaught in the least commingled with a desire of plunder. The principal citizens of Antwerp, expecting every instant that the storm would be diverted from the ecclesiastical edifices to private dwellings, and that robbery, rape, and murder would follow sacrilege, remained all night expecting the attack, and prepared to defend their hearths, even if the altars were profaned. The precaution was needless. It was asserted by the Catholics that the confederates and other opulent Protestants had organized this company of profligates for the meagre pittance of ten stivers day. On the other hand, it was believed by many that the Catholics had themselves plotted the whole outrage in order to bring odium upon the Reformers. Both statements were equally unfounded. The task was most thoroughly performed, but it was prompted: by a furious fanaticism, not by baser motives.
Two days and nights longer the havoc raged unchecked through all the churches of Antwerp and the neighboring villages. Hardly a statue or picture escaped destruction. Fortunately, the illustrious artist, whose labors were destined in the next generation to enrich and ennoble the city, Rubens, most profound of colorists, most dramatic—of artists; whose profuse tropical genius seemed to flower the more luxuriantly, as if the destruction wrought by brutal hands were to be compensated by the creative energy of one, divine spirit, had not yet been born. Of the treasures which existed the destruction was complete. Yet the rage was directed exclusively against stocks and stones. Not a man was wounded nor a woman outraged. Prisoners, indeed, who had been languishing hopelessly in dungeons were liberated. A monk, who had been in the prison of the Barefoot Monastery, for twelve years, recovered his freedom. Art was trampled in the dust, but humanity deplored no victims.
These leading features characterized the movement every where. The process was simultaneous and almost universal. It was difficult to say where it began and where it ended. A few days in the midst of August sufficed for the whole work. The number of churches desecrated has never been counted. In the single province of Flanders, four hundred were sacked. In Limburg, Luxemburg, and Namur, there was no image-breaking. In Mechlin, seventy or eighty persons accomplished the work thoroughly, in the very teeth of the grand council, and of an astonished magistracy.
In Tournay, a city distinguished for its ecclesiastical splendor, the reform had been making great progress during the summer. At the same time the hatred between the two religions had been growing more and more intense. Trifles and serious matters alike fed the mutual animosity.
A tremendous outbreak had been nearly occasioned by an insignificant incident. A Jesuit of some notoriety had been preaching a glowing discourse in the pulpit of Notre Dane. He earnestly avowed his wish that he were good enough to die for all his hearers. He proved to demonstration that no man should shrink from torture or martyrdom in order to sustain the ancient faith. As he was thus expatiating, his fervid discourse was suddenly interrupted by three sharp, sudden blows, of a very peculiar character, struck upon the great portal of the Church. The priest, forgetting his love for martyrdom, turned pale and dropped under the pulpit. Hurrying down the steps, he took refuge in the vestry, locking and barring the door. The congregation shared in his panic: "The beggars are coming," was the general cry. There was a horrible tumult, which extended through the city as the congregation poured precipitately out of the Cathedral, to escape a band of destroying and furious Calvinists. Yet when the shock had a little subsided, it was discovered that a small urchin was the cause of the whole tumult. Having been bathing in the Scheldt, he had returned by way of the church with a couple of bladders under his arm. He had struck these against the door of the Cathedral, partly to dry them, partly from a love of mischief. Thus a great uproar, in the course of which it had been feared that Toumay was to be sacked and drenched in blood, had been caused by a little wanton boy who had been swimming on bladders.
This comedy preceded by a few days only the actual disaster. On the 22d of August the news reached Tournay that the churches in Antwerp, Ghent, and many other places, had been sacked. There was an instantaneous movement towards imitating the example on the same evening. Pasquier de la Barre, procureur-general of the city, succeeded by much entreaty in tranquillizing the people for the night. The "guard of terror" was set, and hopes were entertained that the storm might blow over. The expectation, was vain. At daybreak next day, the mob swept upon the churches and stripped them to the very walls. Pictures, statues; organs, ornaments, chalices of silver and gold, reliquaries, albs, chasubles, copes, ciboriea, crosses, chandeliers, lamps; censers, all of richest material, glittering with pearls, rubies, and other precious stones, were scattered in heaps of ruin upon the ground.
As the Spoilers burrowed among the ancient tombs, they performed, in one or two instances, acts of startling posthumous justice. The embalmed body of Duke Adolphus of Gueldres, last of the Egmonts, who had reigned in that province, was dragged from its sepulchre and recognized. Although it had been there for ninety years, it was as uncorrupted, "Owing to the excellent spices which had preserved it from decay," as upon the day of burial. Thrown upon the marble floor of the church, it lay several days exposed to the execrations of the multitude. The Duke had committed a crime against his father, in consequence of which the province which had been ruled by native races, had passed under the dominion of Charles the Bold. Weary of waiting for the old Duke's inheritance, he had risen against him in open rebellion. Dragging him from his bed at midnight in the depth of winter, he had compelled the old man, with no covering but his night gear, to walk with naked feet twenty-five miles over ice and snow from Grave to Buren, while he himself performed the same journey in his company on horseback. He had then thrown him into a dungeon beneath the tower of Buren castle, and kept him a close prisoner for six months.
[Memoires de Philippe de Comines (Loud. et Paris, 1747), liv. iv. 194-196. In the Royal Gallery at Berlin is a startling picture by Rembrandt, in which the old Duke is represented looking out of the bars of his dungeon at his son, who is threatening him with uplifted hand and savage face. No subject could be imagined better adapted to the gloomy and sarcastic genius of that painter.]
At last, the Duke of Burgundy summoned the two before his council, and proposed that Adolphus should allow his father 6000 florins annually, with the title of Duke till his death. "He told us," said Comines, "that he would sooner throw the old man head-foremost down a well and jump in himself afterwards. His father had been Duke forty-four years, and it was time for him to retire." Adolphus being thus intractable, had been kept in prison till after the death of Charles the Bold. To the memorable insurrection of Ghent, in the time of the Lady Mary, he owed his liberty. The insurgent citizens took him from prison, and caused him to lead them in their foray against Tournay. Beneath the walls of that city he was slain, and buried under its cathedral. And now as if his offence had not been sufficiently atoned for by the loss of his ancestral honors, his captivity, and his death, the earth, after the lapse of nearly a century, had cast him forth from her bosom. There, once more beneath the sunlight, amid a ribald crew of a later generation which had still preserved the memory of his sin, lay the body of the more than parricide, whom "excellent spices" had thus preserved from corruption, only to be the mark of scorn and demoniac laughter.
A large assemblage of rioters, growing in numbers as they advanced, swept over the province of Tournay, after accomplishing the sack of the city churches. Armed with halberds, hammers, and pitchforks, they carried on the war, day after day, against the images. At the convent of Marchiennes, considered by contemporaries the most beautiful abbey in all the Netherlands, they halted to sing the ten commandments in Marot's verse. Hardly had the vast chorus finished the precept against graven images;
Taiiler ne to feras imaige De quelque chose que ce soit, Sy bonneur luy fail on hommaige, Bon Dieu jalousie en recoit,
when the whole mob seemed seized with sudden madness. Without waiting to complete the Psalm, they fastened upon the company of marble martyrs, as if they had possessed sensibility to feel the blows inflicted. In an hour they had laid the whole in ruins.
Having accomplished this deed, they swept on towards Anchin. Here, however, they were confronted by the Seigneur de la Tour, who, at the head of a small company of peasants, attacked the marauders and gained a complete victory. Five or six hundred of them were slain, others were drowned in the river and adjacent swamps, the rest were dispersed. It was thus proved that a little more spirit upon the part of the orderly portion of the inhabitants, might have brought about a different result than the universal image-breaking.
In Valenciennes, "the tragedy," as an eye-witness calls it, was performed upon Saint Bartholomew's day. It was, however, only a tragedy of statues. Hardly as many senseless stones were victims as there were to be living Huguenots sacrificed in a single city upon a Bartholomew which was fast approaching. In the Valenciennes massacre, not a human being was injured.
Such in general outline and in certain individual details, was the celebrated iconomachy of the Netherlands. The movement was a sudden explosion of popular revenge against the symbols of that Church from which the Reformers had been enduring such terrible persecution. It was also an expression of the general sympathy for the doctrines which had taken possession of the national heart. It was the depravation of that instinct which had in the beginning of the summer drawn Calvinists and Lutherans forth in armed bodies, twenty thousand strong, to worship God in the open fields. The difference between the two phenomena was, that the field-preaching was a crime committed by the whole mass of the Reformers; men, women, and children confronting the penalties of death, by a general determination, while the imagebreaking was the act of a small portion of the populace. A hundred persons belonging to the lowest order of society sufficed for the desecration of the Antwerp churches. It was, said Orange, "a mere handful of rabble" who did the deed. Sir Richard Clough saw ten or twelve persons entirely sack church after church, while ten thousand spectators looked on, indifferent or horror-struck. The bands of iconoclasts were of the lowest character, and few in number. Perhaps the largest assemblage was that which ravaged the province of Tournay, but this was so weak as to be entirely routed by a small and determined force. The duty of repression devolved upon both Catholics and Protestants. Neither party stirred. All seemed overcome with special wonder as the tempest swept over the land.
The ministers of the Reformed religion, and the chiefs of the liberal party, all denounced the image-breaking. Francis Junius bitterly regretted such excesses. Ambrose Wille, pure of all participation in the crime, stood up before ten thousand Reformers at Tournay—even while the storm was raging in the neighboring cities, and, when many voices around him were hoarsely commanding similar depravities to rebuke the outrages by which a sacred cause was disgraced. The Prince of Orange, in his private letters, deplored the riots, and stigmatized the perpetrators. Even Brederode, while, as Suzerain of his city of Viane, he ordered the images there to be quietly taken from the churches, characterized this popular insurrection as insensate and flagitious. Many of the leading confederates not only were offended with the proceedings, but, in their eagerness to chastise the iconoclasts and to escape from a league of which they were weary, began to take severe measures against the Ministers and Reformers, of whom they had constituted themselves in April the especial protectors.
The next remarkable characteristic of these tumults was the almost entire abstinence of the rioters from personal outrage and from pillage. The testimony of a very bitter, but honest Catholic at Valenciennes, is remarkable upon this point. "Certain chroniclers," said he, "have greatly mistaken the character of this image-breaking. It has been said that the Calvinists killed a hundred priests in this city, cutting some of them into pieces, and burning others over a slow fire. I remember very well every thing which happened upon that abominable day, and I can affirm that not a single priest was injured. The Huguenots took good care not to injure in any way the living images." This was the case every where. Catholic and Protestant writers agree that no deeds of violence were committed against man or woman.
It would be also very easy to accumulate a vast weight of testimony as to their forbearance from robbery. They destroyed for destruction's sake, not for purposes of plunder.
Although belonging to the lowest classes of society, they left heaps of jewellery, of gold and silver plate, of costly embroidery, lying unheeded upon the ground. They felt instinctively that a great passion would be contaminated by admixture with paltry motives. In Flanders a company of rioters hanged one of their own number for stealing articles to the value of five Shillings. In Valenciennes the iconoclasts were offered large sums if they would refrain from desecrating the churches of that city, but they rejected the proposal with disdain. The honest Catholic burgher who recorded the fact, observed that he did so because of the many misrepresentations on the subject, not because he wished to flatter heresy and rebellion.
At Tournay, the greatest scrupulousness was observed upon this point. The floor of the cathedral was strewn with "pearls and precious stones, with chalices and reliquaries of silver and gold;" but the ministers of the reformed religion, in company with the magistrates, came to the spot, and found no difficulty, although utterly without power to prevent the storm, in taking quiet possession of the wreck. "We had every thing of value," says Procureur-General De la Barre, "carefully inventoried, weighed, locked in chests, and placed under a strict guard in the prison of the Halle, to which one set of keys were given to the ministers, and another to the magistrates." Who will dare to censure in very severe language this havoc among stocks and stones in a land where so many living men and women, of more value than many statues, had been slaughtered by the inquisition, and where Alva's "Blood Tribunal" was so soon to eclipse even that terrible institution in the number of its victims and the amount of its confiscations?
Yet the effect of the riots was destined to be most disastrous for a time to the reforming party. It furnished plausible excuses for many lukewarm friends of their cause to withdraw from all connection with it. Egmont denounced the proceedings as highly flagitious, and busied himself with punishing the criminals in Flanders. The Regent was beside herself with indignation and terror. Philip, when he heard the news, fell into a paroxysm of frenzy. "It shall cost them dear!" he cried, as he tore his beard for rage; "it shall cost them dear! I swear it by the soul of my father!" The Reformation in the Netherlands, by the fury of these fanatics, was thus made apparently to abandon the high ground upon which it had stood in the early summer. The sublime spectacle of the multitudinous field-preaching was sullied by the excesses of the image-breaking. The religious war, before imminent, became inevitable.
Nevertheless, the first effect of the tumults was a temporary advantage to the Reformers. A great concession was extorted from the fears of the Duchess Regent, who was certainly placed in a terrible position. Her conduct was not heroic, although she might be forgiven for trepidation. Her treachery, however, under these trying circumstances was less venial. At three o'clock in the morning of the 22nd of August, Orange, Egmont, Horn, Hoogatraaten, Mansfeld, and others were summoned to the palace. They found her already equipped for flight, surrounded by her waiting-women, chamberlains and lackeys, while the mules and hackneys stood harnessed in the court-yard, and her body-guard were prepared to mount at a moment's notice. She announced her intention of retreating at once to Mons, in which city, owing to Aerschot's care, she hoped to find refuge against the fury of the rebellion then sweeping the country. Her alarm was almost beyond control. She was certain that the storm was ready to burst upon Brussels, and that every Catholic was about to be massacred before her eyes. Aremberg, Berlaymont, and Noircarmes were with the Duchess when the other seigniors arrived.
A part of the Duke of Aerschot's company had been ordered out to escort the projected flight to Mons. Orange, Horn, Egmont, and Hoogstraaten implored her to desist from her fatal resolution. They represented that such a retreat before a mob would be the very means of ruining the country. They denounced all persons who had counselled the scheme, as enemies of his Majesty and herself. They protested their readiness to die at her feet in her defence, but besought her not to abandon the post of duty in the hour of peril. While they were thus anxiously debating, Viglius entered the chamber. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Margaret turned to the aged President, uttering fierce reproaches and desponding lamentations. Viglius brought the news that the citizens had taken possession of the gates, and were resolved not to permit her departure from the city. He reminded her, according to the indispensable practice of all wise counsellors, that he had been constantly predicting this result. He, however, failed in administering much consolation, or in suggesting any remedy. He was, in truth, in as great a panic as herself, and it was, according to the statement of the Duchess, mainly in order to save the President from threatened danger, that she eventually resolved to make concessions. "Viglius," wrote Margaret to Philip, "is so much afraid of being cut to pieces, that his timidity has become incredible." Upon the warm assurance of Count Horn, that he would enable her to escape from the city, should it become necessary, or would perish in the attempt, a promise in which he was seconded by the rest of the seigniors, she consented to remain for the day in her palace.—Mansfeld was appointed captain-general of the city; Egmont, Horn, Orange, and the others agreed to serve under his orders, and all went down together to the townhouse. The magistrates were summoned, a general meeting of the citizens was convened, and the announcement made of Mansfeld's appointment, together with an earnest appeal to all honest men to support the Government. The appeal was answered by a shout of unanimous approbation, an enthusiastic promise to live or die with the Regent, and the expression of a resolution to permit neither reformed preaching nor image-breaking within the city.
Nevertheless, at seven o'clock in the evening, the Duchess again sent for the seigniors. She informed them that she had received fresh and certain information, that the churches were to be sacked that very night; that Viglius, Berlaymont, and Aremberg were to be killed, and that herself and Egmont were to be taken prisoners. She repeated many times that she had been ill-advised, expressed bitter regret at having deferred her flight from the city, and called upon those who had obstructed her plan, now to fulfil their promises. Turning fiercely upon Count Horn, she uttered a volley of reproaches upon his share in the transaction. "You are the cause," said she, "that I am now in this position. Why do you not redeem your pledge and enable me to leave the place at once." Horn replied that he was ready to do so if she were resolved to stay no longer. He would at the instant cut his way through the guard at the Caudenberg gate, and bring her out in safety, or die in the effort. At the same time he assured her that he gave no faith to the idle reports flying about the city, reminded her that nobles, magistrates, and citizens were united in her defence, and in brief used the same arguments which had before been used to pacify her alarm. The nobles were again successful in enforcing their counsels, the Duchess was spared the ignominy and the disaster of a retreat before an insurrection which was only directed against statues, and the ecclesiastical treasures of Brussels were saved from sacrilege.
On the 25th August came the crowning act of what the Reformers considered their most complete triumph, and the Regent her deepest degradation. It was found necessary under the alarming aspect of affairs, that liberty of worship, in places where it had been already established, should be accorded to the new religion. Articles of agreement to this effect were accordingly drawn up and exchanged between the Government and Lewis of Nassau, attended by fifteen others of the confederacy. A corresponding pledge was signed by them, that so long as the Regent was true to her engagement, they would consider their previously existing league annulled, and would assist cordially in every endeavor to maintain tranquillity and support the authority of his Majesty. The important Accord was then duly signed by the Duchess. It declared that the inquisition was abolished, that his Majesty would soon issue a new general edict, expressly and unequivocally protecting the nobles against all evil consequences from past transactions, that they were to be employed in the royal service, and that public preaching according to the forms of the new religion was to be practised in places where it had already taken place. Letters general were immediately despatched to the senates of all the cities, proclaiming these articles of agreement and ordering their execution. Thus for a fleeting moment there was a thrill of joy throughout the Netherlands. The inquisition was thought forever abolished, the era of religious reformation arrived.