Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

THIS Prince descended from an ancient and illustrious German house, which, very early, distinguished itself throughout Europe in the cause of Protestantism and Civil Liberty. The Counts of Nassau, then settled on the Rhine, acquired great power during the middle ages: at one period they disputed the pre-eminence with the House of Austria; in 1292 Adolphus of Nassau was elected Emperor of Germany, or-as it was styled-of the Holy Roman Empire; and five ecclesiastical electors of the family of Nassau figured then among the princes of the Empire.

"From Didier and imperial Adolph trace
The glorious offspring of the Nassau race,
Devoted lives to public liberty;

The chief still dying, or the country free."*

*Matthew Prior. Carmen Seculare, addressed to King William III., A.D. 1700.

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

These magnates were famed as a valorous, taciturn, cautious race: and in few historical families have the original characteristics been so long and so perfectly preserved.

Early in the sixteenth century_the_Nassaus obtained, through marriage and bequest, the French principality of Orange in Provence, from which their most celebrated title has been derived: but the possession of several large domains and hereditary dignities in the Netherlands had meanwhile numbered the Counts of Nassau among the great and almost royal vassals whom the House of Austria gained by the marriage of Maximilian with Mary of Burgundy: and William I. of Nassau, Prince of Orange, the true founder of the political importance and glories of his race, was the subject of the Emperor Charles V. This William I. of Orange, greatgrandfather to our William III., was born at Dillenburg in Nassau, in 1533, during the latter part of the reign of our Henry VIII. His father having embraced the Lutheran doctrines, he was, at first, educated as a Protestant; but the Emperor Charles V. removed the promising boy to his court, and caused him to be brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. In the words of Cardinal Bentivoglio, the ultra-Catholic historian of the Wars of Flanders, "He was born a heretic in Germany, but being called into Flanders, when a child, to immense property, paternal and maternal, he became a Catholic and was ever held in great favour by the emperor.' Charles, who is said to have foreseen the great statesman in the boy, kept him very constantly about his person, gave him practical lessons in the business of government, allowed him to be present when he gave audience to foreign ambassadors, and honoured him with a confidence far above his years. William merited this extraordinary favour by a discretion and a taciturnity which had already obtained for him his famous surname of "The Silent ;" and the great Emperor did not blush to avow publicly that to so young a man he had often been indebted for suggestions, in matters of state, which had escaped his own sagacity and long experience. In the last solemn

act of his public life, when he abdicated his throne to his son Philip II., Charles leaned on the shoulder of this William of Orange; and to him also the retiring monarch committed the honourable mission of delivering over the imperial crown to his brother Ferdinand. The Prince, even then, was only in his twenty-third year.

At

This

That intolerant bigot and umbrageous tyrant Philip II. had scarcely ascended the throne ere he conceived a distrust and jealousy of the young Prince, whose popularity and influence in the Low Countries were immense. the same time William embraced Calvinism. change of religion was unknown when he was sent to reside at the court of France as a hostage from Philip II. for the peace of Cateau Cambresis; and the French King, Henry II., believing him to be still a Catholic, and as much in the confidence of Philip as he had been in that of Charles V., incautiously spoke to him of the secret treaty which the crowns of France and Spain had recently concluded for the extirpation of the Protestants in the dominions of both. William hastened to communicate this disclosure to the leaders of the Protestant party in Brussels; and Philip II. soon discovered that he had done so. Yet, for several years, and so long as Philip left the Netherlands under the feeble administration of Margaret of Parma, the Prince of Orange was left undisturbed; and, all that time, as a member of the Flemish council of state, and as Stadtholder of Holland, Zealand, and Utrecht, he covertly but indefatigably employed himself in undermining the tyrannical designs of Philip, who, on his side, was masking his designs with the most consummate dissimulation. But, at last, when the bigot and tyrant, conceiving that the time for action was come, sent the able, energetic, and sanguinary Duke of Alva to supersede Margaret of Parma, William threw off the mask. His friends, the Counts Egmont and Horn, perished on a scaffold, but he saved his life by retiring in good time to his paternal domains of Nassau. There he matured his scheme for entirely overthrowing the mighty power of Spain in the Netherlands. In the field, with raw heterogeneous levies, he had to contend

« PreviousContinue »