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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

In which de Marnix was routed and slain March 13th


It seemed as if some impression had been made on Philip. The Regent received a despatch (July 31st, 1566) saying that he was prepared to withdraw the papal Inquisition from the Netherlands, and that he would grant what toleration was consistent with the maintenance of the Catholic religion; only he would in no way consent to a summoning of the States General.

There was great triumphing in the Netherlands at this news. Perhaps every one but the Prince of Orange was more or less deceived by Philip's duplicity. It is only since the archives of Simancas have yielded their secrets that its depth has been known. They reveal that on Aug. 9th he executed a deed in which he declared that the promise of pardon had been won from him by force, and that he did not mean to keep it, and that on Aug. 12th he wrote to the Pope that his declaration to withdraw the Inquisition was a mere blind. William only knew that the King was levying troops, and that he was blaming the great nobles of the Netherlands for the check inflicted upon him by the confederates.

Long before Philip's real intentions were unmasked, a series of iconoclastic attacks not only gave the King the pretext he needed, but did more harm to the cause of the Reformation in the Low Countries than all the persecutions under Charles V. and his son. The origin of these tumultuous proceedings is obscure. According to Brandt, who collects information from all sides:

"Some few of the vilest of the mob ... were those who began the dance, being hallooed on by nobody knows whom. Their arms were staves, hatchets, hammers, ladders, ropes, and other tools more proper to demolish than to fight with; some few were provided with guns and swords. At first they attacked the crosses and the images that had been erected on the great roads in the country; next, those in the villages; and, lastly, those in the towns and cities. All the chapels, churches, and convents which they found shut they forced open, breaking, tearing, and destroying all the images, pictures, shrines and other consecrated things they met with; nay, some did not scruple to lay their hands upon libraries, books, writings, monuments, and even on the dead bodies in churches and churchyards."[259]

According to almost all accounts, the epidemic, for the madness resembled a disease, first appeared at St. Omer (Aug. 14th, 1566), then at Ypres, and extended rapidly to other towns. It came to a height at Antwerp (16th and 17th Aug. 1566), when the mob sacked the great cathedral and destroyed some of its richest treasures.[260] An eye-witness declared that the rioters in the cathedral did not number more than one hundred men, women, and boys, drawn from the dregs of the population, and that the attacks on the other churches were made by small parties of ten or twelve persons.

These outrages had a disastrous effect on the Reformation movement in the Netherlands, both immediately and in the future. They at once exasperated the more liberal-minded Roman Catholics and enraged the Regent: they began that gradual cleavage which ended in the separation of the Protestant North from the Romanist South. The Regent felt herself justified in practically withdrawing all the privileges she had accorded to the Reformed, and in raising German and Walloon troops to overawe the Protestants. The presence of these troops irritated some of the Calvinist nobles, and John de Marnix, elder brother of Sainte Aldegonde, attempted to seize the Island of Walcheren in order to hold it as a city of refuge for his persecuted brethren. He was unsuccessful; a fight took place not far from Antwerp itself, in which de Marnix was routed and slain (March 13th, 1567).


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