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The Rise of the Dutch Republic, Volume I.(of III) 1555-66 By John Lothrop Motley Characters: 12882

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Thus again the Netherlands, for the first time since the fall of Rome, were united under one crown imperial. They had already been once united, in their slavery to Rome. Eight centuries pass away, and they are again united, in subjection to Charlemagne. Their union was but in forming a single link in the chain of a new realm. The reign of Charlemagne had at last accomplished the promise of the sorceress Velleda and other soothsayers. A German race had re-established the empire of the world. The Netherlands, like-the other provinces of the great monarch's dominion, were governed by crown-appointed functionaries, military and judicial. In the northeastern, or Frisian portion, however; the grants of land were never in the form of revocable benefices or feuds. With this important exception, the whole country shared the fate, and enjoyed the general organization of the Empire.

But Charlemagne came an age too soon. The chaos which had brooded over Europe since the dissolution of the Roman world, was still too absolute. It was not to be fashioned into permanent forms, even by his bold and constructive genius. A soil, exhausted by the long culture of Pagan empires, was to lie fallow for a still longer period. The discordant elements out of which the Emperor had compounded his realm, did not coalesce during his life-time. They were only held together by the vigorous grasp of the hand which had combined them. When the great statesman died, his Empire necessarily fell to pieces. Society had need of farther disintegration before it could begin to reconstruct itself locally. A new civilization was not to be improvised by a single mind. When did one man ever civilize a people? In the eighth and ninth centuries there was not even a people to be civilized. The construction of Charles was, of necessity, temporary. His Empire was supported by artificial columns, resting upon the earth, which fell prostrate almost as soon as the hand of their architect was cold. His institutions had not struck down into the soil. There were no extensive and vigorous roots to nourish, from below, a flourishing Empire through time and tempest.

Moreover, the Carlovingian race had been exhausted by producing a race of heroes like the Pepins and the Charleses. The family became, soon, as contemptible as the ox-drawn, long-haired "do-nothings" whom it had expelled; but it is not our task to describe the fortunes of the Emperor's ignoble descendants. The realm was divided, sub-divided, at times partially reunited, like a family farm, among monarchs incompetent alike to hold, to delegate, or-to resign the inheritance of the great warrior and lawgiver. The meek, bald, fat, stammering, simple Charles, or Louis, who successively sat upon his throne-princes, whose only historic individuality consists in these insipid appellations-had not the sense to comprehend, far less to develop, the plans of their ancestor.

Charles the Simple was the last Carlovingian who governed Lotharingia, in which were comprised most of the Netherlands and Friesland. The German monarch, Henry the Fowler, at that period called King of the East Franks, as Charles of the West Franks, acquired Lotharingia by the treaty of Bonn, Charles reserving the sovereignty over the kingdom during his lifetime. In 925, A.D., however, the Simpleton having been imprisoned and deposed by his own subjects, the Fowler was recognized King, of Lotharingia. Thus the Netherlands passed out of France into Germany, remaining, still, provinces of a loose, disjointed Empire.

This is the epoch in which the various dukedoms, earldoms, and other petty sovereignties of the Netherlands became hereditary. It was in the year 922 that Charles the Simple presented to Count Dirk the territory of Holland, by letters patent. This narrow hook of land, destined, in future ages, to be the cradle of a considerable empire, stretching through both hemispheres, was, thenceforth, the inheritance of Dirk's descendants. Historically, therefore, he is Dirk I., Count of Holland.

Of this small sovereign and his successors, the most powerful foe for centuries was ever the Bishop of Utrecht, the origin of whose greatness has been already indicated. Of the other Netherland provinces, now or before become hereditary, the first in rank was Lotharingia, once the kingdom of Lothaire, now the dukedom of Lorraine. In 965 it was divided into Upper and Lower Lorraine, of which the lower duchy alone belonged to the Netherlands. Two centuries later, the Counts of Louvain, then occupying most of Brabant, obtained a permanent hold of Lower Lorraine, and began to call themselves Dukes of Brabant. The same principle of local independence and isolation which created these dukes, established the hereditary power of the counts and barons who formerly exercised jurisdiction under them and others. Thus arose sovereign Counts of Namur, Hainault, Limburg, Zutphen, Dukes of Luxemburg and Gueldres, Barons of Mechlin, Marquesses of Antwerp, and others; all petty autocrats. The most important of all, after the house of Lorraine, were the Earls of Flanders; for the bold foresters of Charles the Great had soon wrested the sovereignty of their little territory from his feeble descendants as easily as Baldwin, with the iron arm, had deprived the bald Charles of his daughter. Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Overyssel, Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland (all seven being portions of Friesland in a general sense), were crowded together upon a little desolate corner of Europe; an obscure fragment of Charlemagne's broken empire. They were afterwards to constitute the United States of the Netherlands, one of the most powerful republics of history. Meantime, for century after century, the Counts of Holland and the Bishops of Utrecht were to exercise divided sway over the territory.

Thus the whole country was broken into many shreds and patches of sovereignty. The separate history of such half-organized morsels is tedious and petty. Trifling dynasties, where a family or two were every thing, the people nothing, leave little worth recording. Even the most devout of genealogists might shudder to chronicle the long succession of so many illustrious obscure.

A glance, however, at the general features of the governmental system now established in the Netherlands, at this important epoch in the world's history, will show the transformations which the country, in common with oth

er portions of the western world, had undergone.

In the tenth century the old Batavian and later Roman forms have faded away. An entirely new polity has succeeded. No great popular assembly asserts its sovereignty, as in the ancient German epoch; no generals and temporary kings are chosen by the nation. The elective power had been lost under the Romans, who, after conquest, had conferred the administrative authority over their subject provinces upon officials appointed by the metropolis. The Franks pursued the same course. In Charlemagne's time, the revolution is complete. Popular assemblies and popular election entirely vanish. Military, civil, and judicial officers-dukes, earls, margraves, and others-are all king's creatures, 'knegton des konings, pueri regis', and so remain, till they abjure the creative power, and set up their own. The principle of Charlemagne, that his officers should govern according to local custom, helps them to achieve their own independence, while it preserves all that is left of national liberty and law.

The counts, assisted by inferior judges, hold diets from time to time-thrice, perhaps, annually. They also summon assemblies in case of war. Thither are called the great vassals, who, in turn, call their lesser vassals; each armed with "a shield, a spear, a bow, twelve arrows, and a cuirass." Such assemblies, convoked in the name of a distant sovereign, whose face his subjects had never seen, whose language they could hardly understand, were very different from those tumultuous mass-meetings, where boisterous freemen, armed with the weapons they loved the best, and arriving sooner or later, according to their pleasure, had been accustomed to elect their generals and magistrates and to raise them upon their shields. The people are now governed, their rulers appointed by an invisible hand. Edicts, issued by a power, as it were, supernatural, demand implicit obedience. The people, acquiescing in their own annihilation, abdicate not only their political but their personal rights. On the other hand, the great source of power diffuses less and less of light and warmth. Losing its attractive and controlling influence, it becomes gradually eclipsed, while its satellites fly from their prescribed bounds and chaos and darkness return. The sceptre, stretched over realms so wide, requires stronger hands than those of degenerate Carlovingians. It breaks asunder. Functionaries become sovereigns, with hereditary, not delegated, right to own the people, to tax their roads and rivers, to take tithings of their blood and sweat, to harass them in all the relations of life. There is no longer a metropolis to protect them from official oppression. Power, the more sub-divided, becomes the more tyrannical. The sword is the only symbol of law, the cross is a weapon of offence, the bishop is a consecrated pirate, every petty baron a burglar, while the people, alternately the prey of duke, prelate, and seignor, shorn and butchered like sheep, esteem it happiness to sell themselves into slavery, or to huddle beneath the castle walls of some little potentate, for the sake of his wolfish protection. Here they build hovels, which they surround from time to time with palisades and muddy entrenchments; and here, in these squalid abodes of ignorance and misery, the genius of Liberty, conducted by the spirit of Commerce, descends at last to awaken mankind from its sloth and cowardly stupor. A longer night was to intervene; however, before the dawn of day.

The crown-appointed functionaries had been, of course, financial officers. They collected the revenue of the sovereign, one third of which slipped through their fingers into their own coffers. Becoming sovereigns themselves, they retain these funds for their private emolument. Four principal sources yielded this revenue: royal domains, tolls and imposts, direct levies and a pleasantry called voluntary contributions or benevolences. In addition to these supplies were also the proceeds of fines. Taxation upon sin was, in those rude ages, a considerable branch of the revenue. The old Frisian laws consisted almost entirely of a discriminating tariff upon crimes. Nearly all the misdeeds which man is prone to commit, were punished by a money-bote only. Murder, larceny, arson, rape-all offences against the person were commuted for a definite price. There were a few exceptions, such as parricide, which was followed by loss of inheritance; sacrilege and the murder of a master by a slave, which were punished with death. It is a natural inference that, as the royal treasury was enriched by these imposts, the sovereign would hardly attempt to check the annual harvest of iniquity by which his revenue was increased. Still, although the moral sense is shocked by a system which makes the ruler's interest identical with the wickedness of his people, and holds out a comparative immunity in evil-doing for the rich, it was better that crime should be punished by money rather than not be punished at all. A severe tax, which the noble reluctantly paid and which the penniless culprit commuted by personal slavery, was sufficiently unjust as well as absurd, yet it served to mitigate the horrors with which tumult, rapine, and murder enveloped those early days. Gradually, as the light of reason broke upon the dark ages, the most noxious features of the system were removed, while the general sentiment of reverence for law remained.

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

A country disinherited by nature of its rights

A pleasantry called voluntary contributions or benevolences

Annual harvest of iniquity by which his revenue was increased

Batavian legion was the imperial body guard

Beating the Netherlanders into Christianity

Bishop is a consecrated pirate

Brethren, parents, and children, having wives in common

For women to lament, for men to remember

Gaul derided the Roman soldiers as a band of pigmies

Great science of political equilibrium

Holland, England, and America, are all links of one chain

Long succession of so many illustrious obscure

Others go to battle, says the historian, these go to war

Revocable benefices or feuds

Taxation upon sin

The Gaul was singularly unchaste

* * *

MOTLEY'S HISTORY OF THE NETHERLANDS, PG EDITION, VOLUME 2.

THE RISE OF THE DUTCH REPUBLIC JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY, D.C.L., LL.D. 1855

HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION.,

Part 2.

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