William the Silent's Apology

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The Prince of Orange, Count of Nassau and so forth, etc., etc., Lieutenant-General in the Low Countries and Governor of Brabant, Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, and Friesland, and Admiral thereof, to the States-General Greeting:—

I take it as a signal honour that I am the mark of the cruel and barbarous proscription hurled at me by the Spaniard for undertaking your cause and that of freedom and independence; and for this I am called traitor, heretic, hypocrite, foreigner, rebel, enemy of the human race, and I am to be killed like a wild beast, with a price offered to my assassins. I am no foreigner here, no rebel, no traitor. My princedom, which I hold in absolute sovereignty, and all my baronies, fiefs, and inheritances in Burgundy, and in the Netherlands, are mine by ancient and indisputable right, and have the sanction of my good friend the late Emperor and the public law of Europe. My ancestors were powerful Lords in the Low Countries, long before the House of Austria set foot therein, and, if need be, I will rehearse the ancient history of the House of Nassau to whom Dukes of Burgundy and the Emperors have owed so much for generations past. So far back as the year 1039 my ancestors were reigning Counts and Dukes in Guelderland for centuries, whilst the ancestors of the King were mere Counts of Hapsburg in Switzerland. King he may be in Spain or Naples, or of the Indies, but we know no King here: we know only Duke or Count—and even our Duke is limited by our ancient privileges, to maintain which Philip has pledged his oath on his accession, though he professes to have been absolved from it by the Pope.

Traitor, he calls me, against my lawful sovereign—he himself deriving his crown through Henry, the bastard, that traitor and rebel against Pedro, his liege lord, his own father’s son, whom he killed with his own hand. If Don Pedro were a tyrant, what is Philip? What was Philip’s own ancestor, then a Count of Hapsburg, when he turned his sword against my ancestor, his liege lord Adolphus, the Emperor? Adulterer, he calls me, who am united in holy matrimony by the ordinances of God’s Church to my lawful wife—Philip who married his own niece, who murdered his wife, murdered his own son, and many more, who is notorious for his mistresses and amours, if he did not instigate Cardinal Granvelle to poison the late Emperor Maximilian!

The mischief has all arisen from the cruelty and arrogance of the Spaniard, who thinks he can make slaves of us, as if we were Indians or Italians; of us who have never been a conquered people, but have accepted a ruler under definite conditions. This is the cancer that we have sought to cauterise. I was bred up a Catholic and a worldling, but the horrible persecution that I witnessed by fire, sword, and water, and the plot to introduce a worse than Spanish Inquisition which I learned from the King of France, made me resolve in my soul to rest not till I had chased from the land these locusts of Spain. I confess that I sought to ally my friends and nobles of the land to resist these horrors, and I glory in that deed. And of the resistance to the tyranny of Spain in all its stages I take the responsibility, for I view with indignation the bloodthirsty cruelties, worse than those of any tyrant of antiquity, which they have inflicted upon the poor people of this land. Has not the King seized my son, a lad at college, and immured him in a cruel prison. Does he not delight in autos-de-fe? Did he not order me to kill worthy persons suspected of religion? Never! I say. By fire and sword no cause can be gained. Did he not send here the monster Alva, who swore eternal hatred to this people, and boasted that he had put to death 18, 000 persons innocent of everything but differing from him in religion, a man whose tyranny and cruelty surpass anything recorded in ancient or modern history?

He accuses me of being a demagogue, a flatterer of the people. I confess that I am, and whilst life remains, shall ever be on the popular side, in the sense that I shall maintain your freedom and your privileges. And all the offers that have been made to me, the release of my poor son, the restoration of all my estates and honours, and the discharge of all my debts—I have treated these with scorn, for I will never separate my cause from yours. And equally I spurn his setting a price on my head. Does he think he will frighten me by this, when I know how for years I have been surrounded by his hired assassins and poisoners? Does he think he can ennoble my assassin; when, if this be the road to nobility in Castile, there is no gentleman in the world, amongst nations who know what is true nobility, who would hold converse with so cowardly a miscreant?

As for myself—would to God that my exile or death could deliver you from the oppression of the Spaniard! How eagerly would I welcome either! For what think you have I sacrificed my whole property, my brothers who were dearer to me than life, my son who was kidnapped from his father; for what do I hold my life in my hand day and night, if it be not that I may buy your freedom with my blood? If you think that my absence or my death can serve you, I am willing. Here is my head, of which no prince or monarch can dispose, but which is yours to devote to the safety of your Republic. If you think that my poor experience and such industry as I have can serve you yet, let us all go forward with one heart and will to complete the defence of this poor people, with the grace of God, which has upheld me so often in dire perplexity and straits, and let us save your wives and your children, and all that you hold dear and sacred.