HISTORY OF THE UNITED NETHERLANDS
From the Death of William the Silent to the Twelve Year's Truce--1609
By John Lothrop Motley
MOTLEY'S HISTORY OF THE NETHERLANDS, Project Gutenberg Edition, Vol. 79
History of the United Netherlands, 1607
A Dutch fleet under Heemskerk sent to the coast of Spain and
Portugal--Encounter with the Spanish war fleet under D'Avila--Death
of both commanders-in-chief--Victory of the Netherlanders--Massacre
of the Spaniards.
The States-General had not been inclined to be tranquil under the check
which Admiral Haultain had received upon the coast of Spain in the autumn
of 1606. The deed of terrible self-devotion by which Klaaszoon and his
comrades had in that crisis saved the reputation of the republic, had
proved that her fleets needed only skilful handling and determined
leaders to conquer their enemy in the Western seas as certainly as they
had done in the archipelagos of the East. And there was one pre-eminent
naval commander, still in the very prime of life, but seasoned by an
experience at the poles and in the tropics such as few mariners in that
early but expanding maritime epoch could boast. Jacob van Heemskerk,
unlike many of the navigators and ocean warriors who had made and were
destined to make the Orange flag of the United Provinces illustrious over
the world, was not of humble parentage. Sprung of an ancient, knightly
race, which had frequently distinguished itself in his native province of
Holland, he had followed the seas almost from his cradle. By turns a
commercial voyager, an explorer, a privateer's-man, or an admiral of war-
fleets, in days when sharp distinctions between the merchant service and
the public service, corsairs' work and cruisers' work, did not exist, he
had ever proved himself equal to any emergency--a man incapable of
fatigue, of perplexity, or of fear. We have followed his career during
that awful winter in Nova Zembla, where, with such unflinching cheerful
heroism, he sustained the courage of his comrades--the first band of
scientific martyrs that had ever braved the dangers and demanded the
secrets of those arctic regions. His glorious name--as those of so many
of his comrades and countrymen--has been rudely torn from cape,
promontory, island, and continent, once illustrated by courage and
suffering, but the noble record will ever remain.
Subsequently he had much navigated the Indian ocean; his latest
achievement having been, with two hundred men, in a couple of yachts,
to capture an immense Portuguese carrack, mounting thirty guns, and
manned with eight hundred sailors, and to bring back a prodigious booty
for the exchequer of the republic. A man with delicate features, large
brown eyes, a thin high nose, fair hair and beard, and a soft, gentle
expression, he concealed, under a quiet exterior, and on ordinary
occasions a very plain and pacific costume, a most daring nature,
and an indomitable ambition for military and naval distinction.
He was the man of all others in the commonwealth to lead any new
enterprise that audacity could conceive against the hereditary enemy.
The public and the States-General were anxious to retrace the track of
Haultain, and to efface the memory of his inglorious return from the
Spanish coast. The sailors of Holland and Zeeland were indignant that
the richly freighted fleets of the two Indies had been allowed to slip so
easily through their fingers. The great East India Corporation was
importunate with Government that such blunders should not be repeated,
and that the armaments known to be preparing in the Portuguese ports,
the homeward-bound fleets that might be looked for at any moment off the
peninsular coast, and the Spanish cruisers which were again preparing to
molest the merchant fleets of the Company, should be dealt with
effectively and in season.
Twenty-six vessels of small size but of good sailing qualities, according
to the idea of the epoch, were provided, together with four tenders. Of
this fleet the command was offered to Jacob van Heemskerk. He accepted
with alacrity, expressing with his usual quiet self-confidence the hope
that, living or dead, his fatherland would have cause to thank him.
Inspired only by the love of glory, he asked for no remuneration for his
services save thirteen per cent. of the booty, after half a million
florins should have been paid into the public treasury. It was hardly
probable that this would prove a large share of prize money, while
considerable victories alone could entitle him to receive a stiver.
The expedition sailed in the early days of April for the coast of Spain
and Portugal, the admiral having full discretion to do anything that
might in his judgment redound to the advantage of the republic. Next in
command was the vice-admiral of Zeeland, Laurenz Alteras. Another famous
seaman in the fleet was Captain Henry Janszoon of Amsterdam, commonly
called Long Harry, while the weather-beaten and well-beloved Admiral
Lambert, familiarly styled by his countrymen "Pretty Lambert," some of
whose achievements have already been recorded in these pages, was the
comrade of all others upon whom Heemskerk most depended. After the 10th
April the admiral, lying off and on near the mouth of the Tagus, sent a
lugger in trading disguise to reconnoitre that river. He ascertained by
his spies, sent in this and subsequently in other directions, as well as
by occasional merchantmen spoken with at sea, that the Portuguese fleet
for India would not be ready to sail for many weeks; that no valuable
argosies were yet to be looked for from America, but that a great war-
fleet, comprising many galleons of the largest size, was at that very
moment cruising in the Straits of Gibraltar. Such of the Netherland
traders as were returning from the Levant, as well as those designing to
enter the Mediterranean, were likely to fall prizes to this formidable
enemy. The heart of Jacob Heemskerk danced for joy. He had come forth
for glory, not for booty, and here was what he had scarcely dared to hope
for--a powerful antagonist instead of peaceful, scarcely resisting, but
richly-laden merchantmen. The accounts received were so accurate as to
assure him that the Gibraltar fleet was far superior to his own in size
of vessels, weight of metal, and number of combatants. The circumstances
only increased his eagerness. The more he was over-matched, the greater
would be the honour of victory, and he steered for the straits, tacking
to and fro in the teeth of a strong head-wind.
On the morning of the 25th April he was in the narrowest part of the
mountain-channel, and learned that the whole Spanish fleet was in the Bay
The marble pillar of Hercules rose before him. Heemskerk was of a poetic
temperament, and his imagination was inflamed by the spectacle which met
his eyes. Geographical position, splendour of natural scenery, immortal
fable, and romantic history, had combined to throw a spell over that
region. It seemed marked out for perpetual illustration by human valour.
The deeds by which, many generations later, those localities were to
become identified with the fame of a splendid empire--then only the most
energetic rival of the young republic, but destined under infinitely
better geographical conditions to follow on her track of empire, and with
far more prodigious results--were still in the womb of futurity. But St.
Vincent, Trafalgar, Gibraltar--words which were one day to stir the
English heart, and to conjure heroic English shapes from the depths so
long as history endures--were capes and promontories already familiar to
legend and romance.
Those Netherlanders had come forth from their slender little fatherland
to offer battle at last within his own harbours and under his own
fortresses to the despot who aspired to universal monarchy, and who
claimed the lordship of the seas. The Hollanders and Zeelanders had
gained victories on the German Ocean, in the Channel, throughout the
Indies, but now they were to measure strength with the ancient enemy in
this most conspicuous theatre, and before the eyes of Christendom. It
was on this famous spot that the ancient demigod had torn asunder by main
strength the continents of Europe and Africa. There stood the opposite
fragments of the riven mountain-chain, Calpe and Abyla, gazing at each
other, in eternal separation, across the gulf, emblems of those two
antagonistic races which the terrible hand of Destiny has so ominously
disjoined. Nine centuries before, the African king, Moses son of Nuzir,
and his lieutenant, Tarik son of Abdallah, had crossed that strait and
burned the ships which brought them. Black Africa had conquered a
portion of whiter Europe, and laid the foundation of the deadly mutual
repugnance which nine hundred years of bloodshed had heightened into
insanity of hatred. Tarik had taken the town and mountain, Carteia and
Calpe, and given to both his own name. Gib-al-Tarik, the cliff of Tarik,
they are called to this day.
Within the two horns of that beautiful bay, and protected by the fortress
on the precipitous rock, lay the Spanish fleet at anchor. There were ten
galleons of the largest size, besides lesser war-vessels and carracks,
in all twenty-one sail. The admiral commanding was Don Juan Alvarez
d'Avila, a veteran who had fought at Lepanto under Don John of Austria.
His son was captain of his flag-ship, the St. Augustine. The vice-
admiral's galleon was called 'Our Lady of La Vega,' the rear-admiral's
was the 'Mother of God,' and all the other ships were baptized by the
holy names deemed most appropriate, in the Spanish service, to deeds of
On the other hand, the nomenclature of the Dutch ships suggested a
menagerie. There was the Tiger, the Sea Dog, the Griffin, the Red Lion,
the Golden Lion, the Black Bear, the White Bear; these, with the AEolus
and the Morning Star, were the leading vessels of the little fleet.
On first attaining a distant view of the enemy, Heemskerk summoned all
the captains on board his flag-ship, the AEolus, and addressed them in a
few stirring words.
"It is difficult," he said, "for Netherlanders not to conquer on salt
water. Our fathers have gained many a victory in distant seas, but it is
for us to tear from the enemy's list of titles his arrogant appellation
of Monarch of the Ocean. Here, on the verge of two continents, Europe is
watching our deeds, while the Moors of Africa are to learn for the first
time in what estimation they are to hold the Batavian republic. Remember
that you have no choice between triumph and destruction. I have led you
into a position whence escape is impossible--and I ask of none of you
more than I am prepared to do myself--whither I am sure that you will
follow. The enemy's ships are far superior to ours in bulk; but remember
that their excessive size makes them difficult to handle and easier to
hit, while our own vessels are entirely within control. Their decks are
swarming with men, and thus there will be more certainty that our shot
will take effect. Remember, too, that we are all sailors, accustomed
from our cradles to the ocean; while yonder Spaniards are mainly soldiers
and landsmen, qualmish at the smell of bilgewater, and sickening at the
roll of the waves. This day begins a long list of naval victories, which
will make our fatherland for ever illustrious, or lay the foundation of
an honourable peace, by placing, through our triumph, in the hands of the
States-General, the power of dictating its terms."
His comrades long remembered the enthusiasm which flashed from the man,
usually so gentle and composed in demeanour, so simple in attire. Clad
in complete armour, with the orange-plumes waving from his casque and
the orange-scarf across his breast, he stood there in front of the
mainmast of the AEolus, the very embodiment of an ancient Viking.
He then briefly announced his plan of attack. It was of antique
simplicity. He would lay his own ship alongside that of the Spanish
admiral. Pretty Lambert in the Tiger was to grapple with her on the
other side. Vice-admiral Alteras and Captain Bras were to attack the
enemy's vice-admiral in the same way. Thus, two by two, the little
Netherland ships were to come into closest quarters with each one of the
great galleons. Heemskerk would himself lead the way, and all were to
follow, as closely as possible, in his wake. The oath to stand by each
other was then solemnly renewed, and a parting health was drunk. The
captains then returned to their ships.
As the Lepanto warrior, Don Juan d'Avila, saw the little vessels slowly
moving towards him, he summoned a Hollander whom he had on board, one
Skipper Gevaerts of a captured Dutch trading bark, and asked him whether
those ships in the distance were Netherlanders.
"Not a doubt of it," replied the skipper.
The admiral then asked him what their purpose could possibly be, in
venturing so near Gibraltar.
"Either I am entirely mistaken in my countrymen," answered Gevaerta, "or
they are coming for the express purpose of offering you battle."
The Spaniard laughed loud and long. The idea that those puny vessels
could be bent on such a purpose seemed to him irresistibly comic, and he
promised his prisoner, with much condescension, that the St. Augustine
alone should sink the whole fleet.
Gevaerts, having his own ideas on the subject, but not being called upon
to express them, thanked the admiral for his urbanity, and respectfully
At least four thousand soldiers were in D'Avila's ships, besides seamen.
there were seven hundred in the St. Augustine, four hundred and fifty in
Our Lady of Vega, and so on in proportion. There were also one or two
hundred noble volunteers who came thronging on board, scenting the battle
from afar, and desirous of having a hand in the destruction of the
It was about one in the afternoon. There was not much wind, but the
Hollanders, slowly drifting on the eternal river that pours from the
Atlantic into the Mediterranean, were now very near. All hands had been
piped on board every one of the ships, all had gone down on their knees
in humble prayer, and the loving cup had then been passed around.
Heemskerk, leading the way towards the Spanish admiral, ordered the
gunners of the bolus not to fire until the vessels struck each other.
"Wait till you hear it crack," he said, adding a promise of a hundred
florins to the man who should pull down the admiral's flag. Avila,
notwithstanding his previous merriment, thought it best, for the moment,
to avoid the coming collision. Leaving to other galleons, which he
interposed between himself and the enemy, the task of summarily sinking
the Dutch fleet, he cut the cable of the St. Augustine and drifted
farther into the bay. Heemskerk, not allowing himself to be foiled in
his purpose, steered past two or three galleons, and came crashing
against the admiral. Almost simultaneously, Pretty Lambert laid himself
along her quarter on the other side. The St. Augustine fired into the
AEolus as she approached, but without doing much damage. The Dutch
admiral, as he was coming in contact, discharged his forward guns, and
poured an effective volley of musketry into his antagonist.
The St. Augustine fired again, straight across the centre of the bolus,
at a few yards' distance. A cannon-ball took off the head of a sailor,
standing near Heemskerk, and carried away the admiral's leg, close to the
body. He fell on deck, and, knowing himself to be mortally wounded,
implored the next in command on board, Captain Verhoef, to fight his ship
to the last, and to conceal his death from the rest of the fleet. Then
prophesying a glorious victory for republic, and piously commending his
soul to his Maker, he soon breathed his last. A cloak was thrown over
him, and the battle raged. The few who were aware that the noble
Heemskerk was gone, burned to avenge his death, and to obey the dying
commands of their beloved chief. The rest of the Hollanders believed
themselves under his directing influence, and fought as if his eyes were
upon them. Thus the spirit of the departed hero still watched over and
guided the battle.
The AEolus now fired a broadside into her antagonist, making fearful
havoc, and killing Admiral D'Avila. The commanders-in-chief of both
contending fleets had thus fallen at the very beginning of the battle.
While the St. Augustine was engaged in deadly encounter, yardarm and
yardarm, with the AEolus and the Tiger, Vice-admiral Alteras had,
however, not carried out his part of the plan. Before he could succeed
in laying himself alongside of the Spanish vice-admiral, he had been
attacked by two galleons. Three other Dutch ships, however, attacked the
vice-admiral, and, after an obstinate combat, silenced all her batteries
and set her on fire. Her conquerors were then obliged to draw off rather
hastily, and to occupy themselves for a time in extinguishing their own
burning sails, which had taken fire from the close contact with their
enemy. Our Lady of Vega, all ablaze from top-gallant-mast to
quarterdeck, floated helplessly about, a spectre of flame, her guns going
off wildly, and her crew dashing themselves into the sea, in order to
escape by drowning from a fiery death. She was consumed to the water's
Meantime, Vice-admiral Alteras had successively defeated both his
antagonists; drifting in with them until almost under the guns of the
fortress, but never leaving them until, by his superior gunnery and
seamanship, he had sunk one of them, and driven the other a helpless
wreck on shore.
Long Harry, while Alteras had been thus employed, had engaged another
great galleon, and set her on fire. She, too, was thoroughly burned to
her hulk; but Admiral Harry was killed.
By this time, although it was early of an April afternoon, and heavy
clouds of smoke, enveloping the combatants pent together in so small a
space, seemed to make an atmosphere of midnight, as the flames of the
burning galleons died away. There was a difficulty, too, in bringing all
the Netherland ships into action--several of the smaller ones having been
purposely stationed by Heemskerk on the edge of the bay to prevent the
possible escape of any of the Spaniards. While some of these distant
ships were crowding sail, in order to come to closer quarters, now that
the day seemed going against the Spaniards, a tremendous explosion
suddenly shook the air. One of the largest galleons, engaged in combat
with a couple of Dutch vessels, had received a hot shot full in her
powder magazine, and blew up with all on board. The blazing fragments
drifted about among the other ships, and two more were soon on fire,
their guns going off and their magazines exploding. The rock of
Gibraltar seemed to reel. To the murky darkness succeeded the
intolerable glare of a new and vast conflagration. The scene in that
narrow roadstead was now almost infernal. It seemed, said an eye-
witness, as if heaven and earth were passing away. A hopeless panic
seized the Spaniards. The battle was over. The St. Augustine still lay
in the deadly embrace of her antagonists, but all the other galleons were
sunk or burned. Several of the lesser war-ships had also been destroyed.
It was nearly sunset. The St. Augustine at last ran up a white flag, but
it was not observed in the fierceness of the last moments of combat; the
men from the bolus and the Tiger making a simultaneous rush on board the
The fight was done, but the massacre was at its beginning. The
trumpeter, of Captain Kleinsorg clambered like a monkey up the mast of
the St. Augustine, hauled down the admiral's flag, the last which was
still waving, and gained the hundred florins. The ship was full of dead
and dying; but a brutal, infamous butchery now took place. Some
Netherland prisoners were found in the hold, who related that two
messengers had been successively despatched to take their lives, as they
lay there in chains, and that each had been shot, as he made his way
towards the execution of the orders.
This information did not chill the ardour of their victorious countrymen.
No quarter was given. Such of the victims as succeeded in throwing
themselves overboard, out of the St. Augustine, or any of the burning or
sinking ships, were pursued by the Netherlanders, who rowed about among
them in boats, shooting, stabbing, and drowning their victims by
hundreds. It was a sickening spectacle. The bay, said those who were
there, seemed sown with corpses. Probably two or three thousand were
thus put to death, or had met their fate before. Had the chivalrous
Heemskerk lived, it is possible that he might have stopped the massacre.
But the thought of the grief which would fill the commonwealth when the
news should arrive of his death--thus turning the joy of the great
triumph into lamentations--increased the animosity of his comrades.
Moreover, in ransacking the Spanish admiral's ship, all his papers had
been found, among them many secret instructions from Government signed
"the King;" ordering most inhuman persecutions, not only of the
Netherlanders, but of all who should in any way assist them, at sea or
ashore. Recent examples of the thorough manner in which the royal
admirals could carry out these bloody instructions had been furnished by
the hangings, burnings, and drownings of Fazardo. But the barbarous
ferocity of the Dutch on this occasion might have taught a lesson even to
the comrades of Alva.
The fleet of Avila was entirely destroyed. The hulk of the St.
Augustine drifted ashore, having been abandoned by the victors, and was
set on fire by a few Spaniards who had concealed themselves on board,
lest she might fall again into the enemy's hands.
The battle had lasted from half-past three until sunset. The Dutch
vessels remained all the next day on the scene of their triumph. The
townspeople were discerned, packing up their goods, and speeding panic-
struck into the interior. Had Heemskerk survived he would doubtless have
taken Gibraltar--fortress and town--and perhaps Cadiz, such was the
consternation along the whole coast.
But his gallant spirit no longer directed the fleet. Bent rather upon
plunder than glory, the ships now dispersed in search of prizes towards
the Azores, the Canaries, or along the Portuguese coast; having first
made a brief visit to Tetuan, where they were rapturously received by the
The Hollanders lost no ships, and but one hundred seamen were killed.
Two vessels were despatched homeward directly, one with sixty wounded
sailors, the other with the embalmed body of the fallen Heemskerk. The
hero was honoured with a magnificent funeral in Amsterdam at the public
expense--the first instance in the history of the republic--and his name
was enrolled on the most precious page of her records.
[The chief authorities for this remarkable battle are Meteren, 547,
548. Grotius, xvi. 731-738. Wagenaar, ix. 251-258.]
Internal condition of Spain--Character of the people--Influence of
the Inquisition--Population and Revenue--Incomes of Church and
Government--Degradation of Labour--Expulsion of the Moors and its
consequences--Venality the special characteristic of Spanish polity
--Maxims of the foreign polity of Spain--The Spanish army and navy--
Insolvent state of the Government--The Duke of Lerma--His position
in the State--Origin of his power--System of bribery and
trafficking--Philip III. His character--Domestic life of the king
A glance at the interior condition of Spain, now that there had been more
than nine years of a new reign, should no longer be deferred.
Spain was still superstitiously regarded as the leading power of the
world, although foiled in all its fantastic and gigantic schemes. It was
still supposed, according to current dogma, to share with the Ottoman
empire the dominion of the earth. A series of fortunate marriages having
united many of the richest and fairest portions of Europe under a single
sceptre, it was popularly believed in a period when men were not much
given as yet to examine very deeply the principles of human governments
or the causes of national greatness, that an aggregation of powers which
had resulted from preposterous laws of succession really constituted a
mighty empire, founded by genius and valour.
The Spanish people, endowed with an acute and exuberant genius, which had
exhibited itself in many paths of literature, science, and art; with a
singular aptitude for military adventure, organization, and achievement;
with a great variety, in short, of splendid and ennobling qualities; had
been, for a long succession of years, accursed with almost the very worst
political institutions known to history. The depth of their misery and
of their degradation was hardly yet known to themselves, and this was
perhaps the most hideous proof of the tyranny of which they had been the
victims. To the outward world, the hollow fabric, out of which the whole
pith and strength had been slowly gnawed away, was imposing and
majestic still. But the priest, the soldier, and the courtier had been
busy too long, and had done their work too thoroughly, to leave much hope
of arresting the universal decay.
Nor did there seem any probability that the attempt would be made.
It is always difficult to reform wide-spread abuses, even when they are
acknowledged to exist, but when gigantic vices are proudly pointed to as
the noblest of institutions and as the very foundations of the state,
there seems nothing for the patriot to long for but the deluge.
It was acknowledged that the Spanish population--having a very large
admixture of those races which, because not Catholic at heart, were
stigmatized as miscreants, heretics, pagans, and, generally, as accursed-
-was by nature singularly prone to religious innovation.
Had it not been for the Holy Inquisition, it was the opinion of acute
and thoughtful observers in the beginning of the seventeenth century,
that the infamous heresies of Luther, Calvin, and the rest, would have
long before taken possession of the land. To that most blessed
establishment it was owing that Spain had not polluted itself in the
filth and ordure of the Reformation, and had been spared the horrible
fate which had befallen large portions of Germany, France, Britain, and
other barbarous northern nations. It was conscientiously and thankfully
believed in Spain, two centuries ago, that the state had been saved from
political and moral ruin by that admirable machine which detected
heretics with unerring accuracy, burned them when detected, and consigned
their descendants to political incapacity and social infamy to the
As the awful consequences of religious freedom, men pointed with a
shudder to the condition of nations already speeding on the road to ruin,
from which the two peninsulas at least had been saved. Yet the British
empire, with the American republic still an embryo in its bosom, France,
North Germany, and other great powers, had hardly then begun their
headlong career. Whether the road of religious liberty was leading
exactly to political ruin, the coming centuries were to judge.
Enough has been said in former chapters for the characterization of
Philip II. and his polity. But there had now been nearly ten years of
another reign. The system, inaugurated by Charles and perfected by his
son, had reached its last expression under Philip III.
The evil done by father and son lived and bore plentiful fruit in the
epoch of the grandson. And this is inevitable in history. No generation
is long-lived enough to reap the harvest, whether of good or evil, which
Philip II. had been indefatigable in evil, a thorough believer in his
supernatural mission as despot, not entirely without capacity for
affairs, personally absorbed by the routine of his bureau.
He was a king, as he understood the meaning of the kingly office. His
policy was continued after his death; but there was no longer a king.
That important regulator to the governmental machinery was wanting. How
its place was supplied will soon appear.
Meantime the organic functions were performed very much in the old way.
There was, at least, no lack of priests or courtiers.
Spain at this epoch had probably less than twelve millions of
inhabitants, although the statistics of those days cannot be relied upon
with accuracy. The whole revenue of the state was nominally sixteen or
seventeen millions of dollars, but the greater portion of that income was
pledged for many coming years to the merchants of Genoa. All the little
royal devices for increasing the budget by debasing the coin of the
realm, by issuing millions of copper tokens, by lowering the promised
rate of interest on Government loans, by formally repudiating both
interest and principal, had been tried, both in this and the preceding
reign, with the usual success. An inconvertible paper currency,
stimulating industry and improving morals by converting beneficent
commerce into baleful gambling--that fatal invention did not then exist.
Meantime, the legitimate trader and innocent citizen were harassed, and
the general public endangered, as much as the limited machinery of the
The available, unpledged revenue of the kingdom hardly amounted to five
millions of dollars a-year. The regular annual income of the church was
at least six millions. The whole personal property of the nation was
estimated in a very clumsy and unsatisfactory way, no doubt--at sixty
millions of dollars. Thus the income of the priesthood was ten per cent.
of the whole funded estate of the country, and at least a million a year
more than the income of the Government. Could a more biting epigram be
made upon the condition to which the nation had been reduced?
Labour was more degraded than ever. The industrious classes, if such
could be said to exist, were esteemed every day more and more infamous.
Merchants, shopkeepers, mechanics, were reptiles, as vilely, esteemed as
Jews, Moors, Protestants, or Pagans. Acquiring wealth by any kind of
production was dishonourable. A grandee who should permit himself to
sell the wool from his boundless sheep-walks disgraced his caste, and was
accounted as low as a merchant. To create was the business of slaves and
miscreants: to destroy was the distinguishing attribute of Christians and
nobles. To cheat, to pick, and to steal, on the most minute and the most
gigantic scale--these were also among the dearest privileges of the
exalted classes. No merchandize was polluting save the produce of honest
industry. To sell places in church and state, the army, the navy, and
the sacred tribunals of law, to take bribes from rich and poor, high and
low; in sums infinitesimal or enormous, to pillage the exchequer in,
every imaginable form, to dispose of titles of honour, orders of
chivalry, posts in municipal council, at auction; to barter influence,
audiences, official interviews against money cynically paid down in
rascal counters--all this was esteemed consistent with patrician dignity.
The ministers, ecclesiastics, and those about court, obtaining a monopoly
of such trade, left the business of production and circulation to their
inferiors, while, as has already been sufficiently indicated, religious
fanaticism and a pride of race, which nearly amounted to idiocy, had
generated a scorn for labour even among the lowest orders. As a natural
consequence, commerce and the mechanical arts fell almost exclusively
into the hands of foreigners--Italians, English, and French--who resorted
in yearly increasing numbers to Spain for the purpose of enriching.
themselves by the industry which the natives despised.
The capital thus acquired was at regular intervals removed from the
country to other lands, where wealth resulting from traffic or
manufactures was not accounted infamous.
Moreover, as the soil of the country was held by a few great proprietors
--an immense portion in the dead-hand of an insatiate and ever-grasping
church, and much of the remainder in vast entailed estates--it was nearly
impossible for the masses of the people to become owners of any portion
of the land. To be an agricultural day-labourer at less than a beggar's
wage could hardly be a tempting pursuit for a proud and indolent race.
It was no wonder therefore that the business of the brigand, the
smuggler, the professional mendicant became from year to year more
attractive and more overdone; while an ever-thickening swarm of priests,
friars, and nuns of every order, engendered out of a corrupt and decaying
society, increasing the general indolence, immorality, and unproductive
consumption, and frightfully diminishing the productive force of the
country, fed like locusts upon what was left in the unhappy land.
"To shirk labour, infinite numbers become priests and friars,"
said, a good Catholic, in the year 1608--[Gir. Soranzo].
Before the end of the reign of Philip III. the peninsula, which might
have been the granary of the world, did not produce food enough for its
own population. Corn became a regular article of import into Spain, and
would have come in larger quantities than it did had the industry of the
country furnished sufficient material to exchange for necessary food.
And as if it had been an object of ambition with the priests and
courtiers who then ruled a noble country, to make at exactly this epoch
the most startling manifestation of human fatuity that the world had ever
seen, it was now resolved by government to expel by armed force nearly
the whole stock of intelligent and experienced labour, agricultural and
mechanical, from the country. It is unnecessary to dwell long upon an
event which, if it were not so familiarly known to mankind, would seem
almost incredible. But the expulsion of the Moors is, alas! no
exaggerated and imaginary satire, but a monument of wickedness and
insanity such as is not often seen in human history.
Already, in the very first years of the century, John Ribera, archbishop
of Valencia, had recommended and urged the scheme.
It was too gigantic a project to be carried into execution at once, but
it was slowly matured by the aid of other ecclesiastics. At last there
were indications, both human and divine, that the expulsion of these
miscreants could no longer be deferred. It was rumoured and believed
that a general conspiracy existed among the Moors to rise upon the
Government, to institute a general massacre, and, with the assistance of
their allies and relatives on the Barbary coast, to re-establish the
empire of the infidels.
A convoy of eighty ass-loads of oil on the way to Madrid had halted at a
wayside inn. A few flasks were stolen, and those who consumed it were
made sick. Some of the thieves even died, or were said to have died, in
consequence. Instantly the rumour flew from mouth to mouth, from town
to town, that the royal family, the court, the whole capital, all Spain,
were to be poisoned with that oil. If such were the scheme it was
certainly a less ingenious one than the famous plot by which the Spanish
Government was suspected but a few years before to have so nearly
succeeded in blowing the king, peers, and commons of England into the
The proof of Moorish guilt was deemed all-sufficient, especially as it
was supported by supernatural evidence of the most portentous and
convincing kind. For several days together a dark cloud, tinged with
blood-red, had been seen to hang over Valencia.
In the neighbourhood of Daroca, a din of, drums and trumpets and the
clang of arms had been heard in the sky, just as a procession went out
of a monastery.
At Valencia the image of the Virgin had shed tears. In another place her
statue had been discovered in a state of profuse perspiration.
What more conclusive indications could be required as to the guilt of the
Moors? What other means devised for saving crown, church, and kingdom
from destruction but to expel the whole mass of unbelievers from the soil
which they had too long profaned?
Archbishop Ribera was fully sustained by the Archbishop of Toledo, and
the whole ecclesiastical body received energetic support from Government.
Ribera had solemnly announced that the Moors were so greedy of money,
so determined to keep it, and so occupied with pursuits most apt for
acquiring it, that they had come to be the sponge of Spanish wealth. The
best proof of this, continued the reverend sage, was that, inhabiting in
general poor little villages and sterile tracts of country, paying to the
lords of the manor one third of the crops, and being overladen with
special taxes imposed only upon them, they nevertheless became rich,
while the Christians, cultivating the most fertile land, were in abject
It seems almost incredible that this should not be satire. Certainly
the most delicate irony could not portray the vicious institutions under
which the magnificent territory and noble people of Spain were thus
doomed to ruin more subtly end forcibly than was done by the honest
brutality of this churchman. The careful tillage, the beautiful system
of irrigation by aqueduct and canal, the scientific processes by which
these "accursed" had caused the wilderness to bloom with cotton, sugar,
and every kind of fruit and grain; the untiring industry, exquisite
ingenuity, and cultivated taste by which the merchants, manufacturers,
and mechanics, guilty of a darker complexion than that of the peninsular
Goths, had enriched their native land with splendid fabrics in cloth,
paper, leather, silk, tapestry, and by so doing had acquired fortunes
for themselves, despite iniquitous taxation, religious persecution, and
social contumely--all these were crimes against a race of idlers, steeped
to the lips in sloth which imagined itself to be pride.
The industrious, the intelligent, the wealthy, were denounced as
criminals, and hunted to death or into exile as vermin, while the Lermas,
the Ucedas, and the rest of the brood of cormorants, settled more thickly
than ever around their prey.
Meantime, Government declared that the piece of four maravedis should be
worth eight maravedis; the piece of two maravedis being fixed at four.
Thus the specie of the kingdom was to be doubled, and by means of this
enlightened legislation, Spain, after destroying agriculture, commerce,
and manufacture, was to maintain great armies and navies, and establish
This measure, which a wiser churchman than Ribera, Cardinal Richelieu,
afterwards declared the most audacious and barbarous ever recorded by
history, was carried out with great regularity of organization. It was
ordained that the Moors should be collected at three indicated points,
whence they were not to move on pain of death, until duly escorted by
troops to the ports of embarkation. The children under the age of four
years were retained, of course without their parents, from whom they were
forever separated. With admirable forethought, too, the priests took
measures, as they supposed, that the arts of refining sugar, irrigating
the rice-fields, constructing canals and aqueducts, besides many other
useful branches of agricultural and mechanical business, should not die
out with the intellectual, accomplished, and industrious race, alone
competent to practise them, which was now sent forth to die. A very
small number, not more than six in each hundred, were accordingly
reserved to instruct other inhabitants of Spain in those useful arts
which they were now more than ever encouraged to despise.
Five hundred thousand full-grown human beings, as energetic, ingenious,
accomplished, as any then existing in the world, were thus thrust forth
into the deserts beyond sea, as if Spain had been overstocked with
skilled labour; and as if its native production had already outgrown the
world's power of consumption.
Had an equal number of mendicant monks, with the two archbishops who had
contrived this deed at their head, been exported instead of the Moors,
the future of Spain might have been a more fortunate one than it was
likely to prove. The event was in itself perhaps of temporary advantage
to the Dutch republic, as the poverty and general misery, aggravated by
this disastrous policy, rendered the acknowledgment of the States'
independence by Spain almost a matter of necessity.
It is superfluous to enter into any farther disquisiton as to the various
branches of the royal revenue. They remained essentially the same as
during the preceding reign, and have been elaborately set forth in a
previous chapter. The gradual drying up of resources in all the wide-
spread and heterogeneous territories subject to the Spanish sceptre is
the striking phenomenon of the present epoch. The distribution of such
wealth as was still created followed the same laws which had long
prevailed, while the decay and national paralysis, of which the
prognostics could hardly be mistaken, were a natural result of the
The six archbishops had now grown to eleven, and still received gigantic
revenues; the income of the Archbishop of Toledo, including the fund of
one hundred thousand destined for repairing the cathedral, being
estimated at three hundred thousand dollars a year, that of the
Archbishop of Seville and the others varying from one hundred and fifty
thousand dollars to fifty thousand. The sixty-three bishops perhaps
averaged fifty thousand a year each, and there were eight more in Italy.
The commanderies of chivalry, two hundred at least in number, were
likewise enormously profitable. Some of them were worth thirty thousand
a year; the aggregate annual value being from one-and-a-half to two
millions, and all in Lerma's gift, upon his own terms.
Chivalry, that noblest of ideals, without which, in some shape or
another, the world would be a desert and a sty; which included within
itself many of the noblest virtues which can adorn mankind--generosity,
self-denial, chastity, frugality, patience, protection to the feeble, the
downtrodden, and the oppressed; the love of daring adventure, devotion to
a pure religion and a lofty purpose, most admirably pathetic, even when
in the eyes of the vulgar most fantastic--had been the proudest and most
poetical of Spanish characteristics, never to be entirely uprooted from
the national heart.
Alas! what was there in the commanderies of Calatrava, Alcantara,
Santiago, and all the rest of those knightly orders, as then existing, to
respond to the noble sentiments on which all were supposed to be founded?
Institutions for making money, for pillaging the poor of their hard-
earned pittance, trafficked in by greedy ministers and needy courtiers
with a shamelessness which had long ceased to blush at vices however
gross, at venality however mean.
Venality was in truth the prominent characteristic of the Spanish polity
at this epoch. Everything political or ecclesiastical, from highest to
lowest, was matter of merchandize.
It was the autocrat, governing king and kingdom, who disposed of
episcopal mitres, cardinals' hats, commanders' crosses, the offices of
regidores or municipal magistrates in all the cities, farmings of
revenues, collectorships of taxes, at prices fixed by himself.
It was never known that the pope refused to confirm the ecclesiastical
nominations which were made by the Spanish court.
The nuncius had the privilege of dispensing the small cures from thirty
dollars a year downwards, of which the number was enormous. Many of
these were capable, in careful hands, of becoming ten times as valuable
as their nominal estimate, and the business in them became in consequence
very extensive and lucrative. They were often disposed of for the
benefit of servants and the hangers-on of noble families, to laymen, to
women, children, to babes unborn.
When such was the most thriving industry in the land, was it wonderful
that the poor of high and low degree were anxious in ever-increasing
swarms to effect their entrance into convent, monastery, and church, and
that trade, agriculture, and manufactures languished?
The foreign polity of the court remained as it had been established by
Its maxims were very simple. To do unto your neighbour all possible
harm, and to foster the greatness of Spain by sowing discord and
maintaining civil war in all other nations, was the fundamental precept.
To bribe and corrupt the servants of other potentates, to maintain a
regular paid bode of adherents in foreign lands, ever ready to engage in
schemes of assassination, conspiracy, sedition, and rebellion against the
legitimate authority, to make mankind miserable, so far as it was in the
power of human force or craft to produce wretchedness, were objects still
They had not yet led to the entire destruction of other realms and their
submission to the single sceptre of Spain, nor had they developed the
resources, material or moral, of a mighty empire so thoroughly as might
have been done perhaps by a less insidious policy, but they had never
It was a steady object of policy to keep such potentates of Italy as
were not already under the dominion of the Spanish crown in a state
of internecine feud with each other and of virtual dependence on the
powerful kingdom. The same policy pursued in France, of fomenting civil
war by subsidy, force, and chicane, during a long succession of years in
order to reduce that magnificent realm under the sceptre of Philip, has
been described in detail. The chronic rebellion of Ireland against the
English crown had been assisted and inflamed in every possible mode, the
system being considered as entirely justified by the aid and comfort
afforded by the queen to the Dutch rebels.
It was a natural result of the system according to which kingdoms and
provinces with the populations dwelling therein were transferable like
real estate by means of marriage-settlements, entails, and testaments,
that the proprietorship of most of the great realms in Christendom was
matter of fierce legal dispute. Lawsuits, which in chancery could last
for centuries before a settlement of the various claims was made, might
have infinitely enriched the gentlemen of the long robe and reduced all
the parties to beggary, had there been any tribunal but the battle-field
to decide among the august litigants. Thus the King of Great Britain
claimed the legal proprietorship and sovereignty of Brittany, Normandy,
Anjou, Gascony, Calais, and Boulogne in France, besides the whole kingdom
by right of conquest. The French king claimed to be rightful heir of
Castile, Biscay, Guipuscoa, Arragon, Navarre, nearly all the Spanish
peninsula in short, including the whole of Portugal and the Balearic
islands to boot. The King of Spain claimed, as we have seen often
enough, not only Brittany but all France as his lawful inheritance.
Such was the virtue of the prevalent doctrine of proprietorship. Every
potentate was defrauded of his rights, and every potentate was a criminal
usurper. As for the people, it would have excited a smile of superior
wisdom on regal, legal, or sacerdotal lips, had it been suggested that by
any possibility the governed could have a voice or a thought in regard to
the rulers whom God in His grace had raised up to be their proprietors
The army of Spain was sunk far below the standard at which it had been
kept when it seemed fit to conquer and govern the world. Neither by
Spain nor Italy could those audacious, disciplined, and obedient legions
be furnished, at which the enemies of the mighty despot trembled from one
extremity of earth to the other. Peculation, bankruptcy, and mutiny had
done their work at last. We have recently had occasion to observe the
conduct of the veterans in Flanders at critical epochs. At this moment,
seventy thousand soldiers were on the muster and pay roll of the army
serving in those provinces, while not thirty thousand men existed in the
The navy was sunk to fifteen or twenty old galleys, battered, dismantled,
unseaworthy, and a few armed ships for convoying the East and West
Indiamen to and from their destinations.
The general poverty was so great that it was often absolutely impossible
to purchase food for the royal household. "If you ask me," said a cool
observer, "how this great show of empire is maintained, when the funds
are so small, I answer that it is done by not paying at all." The
Government was shamelessly, hopelessly bankrupt. The noble band of
courtiers were growing enormously rich. The state was a carcase which
unclean vultures were picking to the bones.
The foremost man in the land--the autocrat, the absolute master in State
and Church--was the Duke of Lerma.
Very rarely in human history has an individual attained to such unlimited
power under a monarchy, without actually placing the crown upon his own
head. Mayors of the palace, in the days of the do-nothing kings, wielded
nothing like the imperial control which was firmly held by this great
favourite. Yet he was a man of very moderate capacity and limited
acquirements, neither soldier, lawyer, nor priest.
The duke was past sixty years of age, a tall, stately, handsome man,
of noble presence and urbane manner. Born of the patrician house of
Sandoval, he possessed, on the accession of Philip, an inherited income
of ten or twelve thousand dollars. He had now, including what he had
bestowed on his son, a funded revenue of seven hundred thousand a year.
He had besides, in cash, jewels, and furniture, an estimated capital of
six millions. All this he had accumulated in ten years of service, as
prime minister, chief equerry, and first valet of the chamber to the
The tenure of his authority was the ascendancy of a firm character over a
very weak one. At this moment he was doubtless the most absolute ruler
in Christendom, and Philip III. the most submissive and uncomplaining of
The origin of his power was well known. During the reign of Philip II.,
the prince, treated with great severity by his father, was looked upon
with contempt by every one about court. He was allowed to take no part
in affairs, and, having heard of the awful tragedy of his eldest half-
brother, enacted ten years before his own birth, he had no inclination to
confront the wrath of that terrible parent and sovereign before whom all
Spain trembled. Nothing could have been more humble, more effaced, more
obscure, than his existence as prince. The Marquis of Denia, his
chamberlain, alone was kind to him, furnished him with small sums of
money, and accompanied him on the shooting excursions in which his father
occasionally permitted him to indulge. But even these little attentions
were looked upon with jealousy by the king; so that the marquis was sent
into honourable exile from court as governor of Valencia. It was hoped
that absence would wean the prince of his affection for the kind
chamberlain. The calculation was erroneous. No sooner were the eyes of
Philip II. closed in death than the new king made haste to send for
Denia, who was at once created Duke of Lerma, declared of the privy
council, and appointed master of the horse and first gentleman of the
bed-chamber. From that moment the favourite became supreme. He was
entirely without education, possessed little experience in affairs of
state, and had led the life of a commonplace idler and voluptuary until
past the age of fifty. Nevertheless he had a shrewd mother-wit, tact in
dealing with men, aptitude to take advantage of events. He had
directness of purpose, firmness of will, and always knew his own
mind. From the beginning of his political career unto its end, he
conscientiously and without swerving pursued a single aim. This was to
rob the exchequer by every possible mode and at every instant of his
life. Never was a more masterly financier in this respect. With a
single eye to his own interests, he preserved a magnificent unity in all
his actions. The result had been to make him in ten years the richest
subject in the world, as well as the most absolute ruler.
He enriched his family, as a matter of course. His son was already made
Duke of Uceda, possessed enormous wealth, and was supposed by those who
had vision in the affairs of court to be the only individual ever likely
to endanger the power of the father. Others thought that the young
duke's natural dulness would make it impossible for him to supplant the
omnipotent favourite. The end was not yet, and time was to show which
class of speculators was in the right. Meantime the whole family was
united and happy. The sons and daughters had intermarried with the
Infantados, and other most powerful and wealthy families of grandees.
The uncle, Sandoval, had been created by Lerma a cardinal and archbishop
of Toledo; the king's own schoolmaster being removed from that dignity,
and disgraced and banished from court for having spoken disrespectfully
of the favourite. The duke had reserved for himself twenty thousand a
year from the revenues of the archbishopric, as a moderate price for thus
conducting himself as became a dutiful nephew. He had ejected Rodrigo de
Vasquez from his post as president of the council. As a more conclusive
proof of his unlimited sway than any other of his acts had been, he had
actually unseated and banished the inquisitor-general, Don Pietro Porto
Carrero, and supplanted him in that dread office, before which even
anointed sovereigns trembled, by one of his own creatures.
In the discharge of his various functions, the duke and all his family
were domesticated in the royal palace, so that he was at no charges for
housekeeping. His apartments there were more sumptuous than those of the
king and queen. He had removed from court the Dutchess of Candia, sister
of the great Constable of Castile, who had been for a time in attendance
on the queen, and whose possible influence he chose to destroy in the
bud. Her place as mistress of the robes was supplied by his sister, the
Countess of Lemos; while his wife, the terrible Duchess of Lerma, was
constantly with the queen, who trembled at her frown. Thus the royal
pair were completely beleaguered, surrounded, and isolated from all
except the Lermas. When the duke conferred with the king, the doors
were always double locked.
In his capacity as first valet it was the duke's duty to bring the king's
shirt in the morning, to see to his wardrobe and his bed, and to supply
him with ideas for the day. The king depended upon him entirely and
abjectly, was miserable when separated from him four-and-twenty hours,
thought with the duke's thoughts and saw with the duke's eyes. He was
permitted to know nothing of state affairs, save such portions as were
communicated to him by Lerma. The people thought their monarch
bewitched, so much did he tremble before the favourite, and so
unscrupulously did the duke appropriate for his own benefit and that of
his creatures everything that he could lay his hands upon. It would have
needed little to bring about a revolution, such was the universal hatred
felt for the minister, and the contempt openly expressed for the king.
The duke never went to the council. All papers and documents relating to
business were sent to his apartments. Such matters as he chose to pass
upon, such decrees as he thought proper to issue, were then taken by him
to the king, who signed them with perfect docility. As time went on,
this amount of business grew too onerous for the royal hand, or this
amount of participation by the king in affairs of state came to be
esteemed superfluous and inconvenient by the duke, and his own signature
was accordingly declared to be equivalent to that of the sovereign's
sign-manual. It is doubtful whether such a degradation of the royal
prerogative had ever been heard of before in a Christian monarch.
It may be imagined that this system of government was not of a nature to
expedite business, however swiftly it might fill the duke's coffers.
High officers of state, foreign ambassadors, all men in short charged
with important affairs, were obliged to dance attendance for weeks and
months on the one man whose hands grasped all the business of the
kingdom, while many departed in despair without being able to secure a
single audience. It was entirely a matter of trade. It was necessary to
bribe in succession all the creatures of the duke before getting near
enough to headquarters to bribe the duke himself. Never were such
itching palms. To do business at court required the purse of Fortunatus.
There was no deception in the matter. Everything was frank and above
board in that age of chivalry. Ambassadors wrote to their sovereigns
that there was no hope of making treaties or of accomplishing any
negotiation except by purchasing the favour of the autocrat; and Lerma's
price was always high. At one period the republic of Venice wished to
put a stop to the depredations by Spanish pirates upon Venetian commerce,
but the subject could not even be approached by the envoy until he had
expended far more than could be afforded out of his meagre salary in
buying an interview.
When it is remembered that with this foremost power in the world affairs
of greater or less importance were perpetually to be transacted by the
representatives of other nations as well as by native subjects of every
degree; that all these affairs were to pass through the hands of Lerma,
and that those hands had ever to be filled with coin, the stupendous
opulence of the one man can be easily understood. Whether the foremost
power of the world, thus governed, were likely to continue the foremost
power, could hardly seem doubtful to those accustomed to use their reason
in judging of the things of this world.
Meantime the duke continued to transact business; to sell his interviews
and his interest; to traffic in cardinals' hats, bishops' mitres, judges'
ermine, civic and magisterial votes in all offices, high or humble, of
church, army, or state.
He possessed the art of remembering, or appearing to remember, the
matters of business which had been communicated to him. When a
negotiator, of whatever degree, had the good fortune to reach the
presence, he found the duke to all appearance mindful of the particular
affair which led to the interview, and fully absorbed by its importance.
There were men who, trusting to the affability shown by the great
favourite, and to the handsome price paid down in cash for that urbanity,
had been known to go away from their interview believing that their
business was likely to be accomplished, until the lapse of time revealed
to them the wildness of their dream.
The duke perhaps never manifested his omnipotence on a more striking
scale than when by his own fiat he removed the court and the seat of
government to Valladolid, and kept it there six years long. This was
declared by disinterested observers to be not only contrary to common
sense, but even beyond the bounds of possibility. At Madrid the king had
splendid palaces, and in its neighbourhood beautiful country residences,
a pure atmosphere, and the facility of changing the air at will. At
Valladolid there were no conveniences of any kind, no sufficient palace,
no summer villa, no park, nothing but an unwholesome climate. But most
of the duke's estates were in that vicinity, and it was desirable for him
to overlook them in person. Moreover, he wished to get rid of the
possible influence over the king of the Empress Dowager Maria, widow of
Maximilian II. and aunt and grandmother of Philip III. The minister
could hardly drive this exalted personage from court, so easily as he had
banished the ex-Archbishop of Toledo, the Inquisitor General, the Duchess
of Candia, besides a multitude of lesser note. So he did the next best
thing, and banished the court from the empress, who was not likely to put
up with the inconveniences of Valladolid for the sake of outrivalling the
duke. This Babylonian captivity lasted until Madrid was nearly ruined,
until the desolation of the capital, the moans of the trades-people, the
curses of the poor, and the grumblings of the courtiers, finally produced
an effect even upon the arbitrary Lerma. He then accordingly re-
emigrated, with king and Government, to Madrid, and caused it to be
published that he had at last overcome the sovereign's repugnance to the
old capital, and had persuaded him to abandon Valladolid.
There was but one man who might perhaps from his position have competed
with the influence of Lerma. This was the king's father-confessor, whom
Philip wished--although of course his wish was not gratified--to make a
member of the council of state. The monarch, while submitting in
everything secular to the duke's decrees, had a feeble determination to
consult and to be guided by his confessor in all matters of conscience.
As it was easy to suggest that high affairs of state, the duties of
government, the interests of a great people, were matters not entirely
foreign to the conscience of anointed kings, an opening to power might
have seemed easy to an astute and ambitious churchman. But the Dominican
who kept Philip's conscience, Gasparo de Cordova by name, was,
fortunately for the favourite, of a very tender paste, easily moulded to
the duke's purpose. Dull and ignorant enough, he was not so stupid as to
doubt that, should he whisper any suggestions or criticisms in regard to
the minister's proceedings, the king would betray him and he would lose
his office. The cautious friar accordingly held his peace and his place,
and there was none to dispute the sway of the autocrat.
What need to dilate further upon such a minister and upon such a system
of government? To bribe and to be bribed, to maintain stipendiaries in
every foreign Government, to place the greatness of the empire upon the
weakness, distraction, and misery of other nations, to stimulate civil
war, revolts of nobles and citizens against authority; separation of
provinces, religious discontents in every land of Christendom--such were
the simple rules ever faithfully enforced.
The other members of what was called the council were insignificant.
Philip III., on arriving at the throne, had been heard to observe that
the day of simple esquires and persons of low condition was past, and
that the turn of great nobles had come. It had been his father's policy
to hold the grandees in subjection, and to govern by means of ministers
who were little more than clerks, generally of humble origin; keeping the
reins in his own hands. Such great personages as he did employ, like
Alva, Don John of Austria, and Farnese, were sure at last to excite his
jealousy and to incur his hatred. Forty-three years of this kind of work
had brought Spain to the condition in which the third Philip found it.
The new king thought to have found a remedy in discarding the clerks, and
calling in the aid of dukes. Philip II. was at least a king. The very
first act of Philip III. at his father's death was to abdicate.
It was, however, found necessary to retain some members of the former
Government. Fuentes, the best soldier and accounted the most dangerous
man in the empire, was indeed kept in retirement as governor of Milan,
while Cristoval di Mora, who had enjoyed much of the late king's
confidence, was removed to Portugal as viceroy. But Don John of
Idiaquez, who had really been the most efficient of the old
administration, still remained in the council. Without the subordinate
aid of his experience in the routine of business, it would have been
difficult for the favourite to manage the great machine with his single
hand. But there was no disposition on the part of the ancient minister
to oppose the new order of things. A cautious, caustic, dry old
functionary, talking more with his shoulders than with his tongue,
determined never to commit himself, or to risk shipwreck by venturing
again into deeper waters than those of the harbour in which he now hoped
for repose, Idiaquez knew that his day of action was past. Content to be
confidential clerk to the despot duke, as he had been faithful secretary
to the despot king, he was the despair of courtiers and envoys who came
to pump, after having endeavoured to fill an inexhaustible cistern. Thus
he proved, on the whole, a useful and comfortable man, not to the
country, but to its autocrat.
Of the Count of Chinchon, who at one time was supposed to have court
influence because a dabbler in architecture, much consulted during the
building of the Escorial by Philip II. until the auditing of his accounts
brought him into temporary disgrace, and the Marquises of Velada,
Villalonga, and other ministers, it is not necessary to speak. There was
one man in the council, however, who was of great importance, wielding a
mighty authority in subordination to the duke. This was Don Pietro de
Franqueza. An emancipated slave, as his name indicated, and subsequently
the body-servant of Lerma, he had been created by that minister secretary
of the privy council. He possessed some of the virtues of the slave,
such as docility and attachment to the hand that had fed and scourged
him, and many vices of both slave and freedman. He did much of the work
which it would have been difficult for the duke to accomplish in person,
received his fees, sold and dispensed his interviews, distributed his
bribes. In so doing, as might be supposed, he did not neglect his own
interest. It was a matter of notoriety, no man knowing it better than
the king, that no business, foreign or domestic, could be conducted or
even begun at court without large preliminary fees to the secretary of
the council, his wife, and his children. He had, in consequence, already
accumulated an enormous fortune. His annual income, when it was stated,
excited amazement. He was insolent and overbearing to all comers until
his dues had been paid, when he became at once obliging, supple, and
comparatively efficient. Through him alone lay the path to the duke's
The nominal sovereign, Philip III., was thirty years of age. A very
little man, with pink cheeks, flaxen hair, and yellow beard, with a
melancholy expression of eye, and protruding under lip and jaw, he was
now comparatively alert and vigorous in constitution, although for the
first seven years of his life it had been doubtful whether he would live
from week to week. He had been afflicted during that period with a
chronic itch or leprosy, which had undermined his strength, but which
had almost entirely disappeared as he advanced in life.
He was below mediocrity in mind, and had received scarcely any education.
He had been taught to utter a few phrases, more or less intelligible, in
French, Italian, and Flemish, but was quite incapable of sustaining a
conversation in either of those languages. When a child, he had learned
and subsequently forgotten the rudiments of the Latin grammar.
These acquirements, together with the catechism and the offices of the
Church, made up his whole stock of erudition. That he was devout as a
monk of the middle ages, conforming daily and hourly to religious
ceremonies, need scarcely be stated. It was not probable that the son of
Philip II. would be a delinquent to church observances. He was not
deficient in courage, rode well, was fond of hunting, kept close to the
staghounds, and confronted, spear in hand, the wild-boar with coolness
and success. He was fond of tennis, but his especial passion and chief
accomplishment was dancing. He liked to be praised for his proficiency
in this art, and was never happier than when gravely leading out the
queen or his daughter, then four or five years of age--for he never
danced with any one else--to perform a stately bolero.
He never drank wine, but, on the other hand, was an enormous eater; so
that, like his father in youth, he was perpetually suffering from
stomach-ache as the effect of his gluttony. He was devotedly attached to
his queen, and had never known, nor hardly looked at, any other woman.
He had no vice but gambling, in which he indulged to a great extent, very
often sitting up all night at cards. This passion of the king's was much
encouraged by Lerma, for obvious reasons. Philip had been known to lose
thirty thousand dollars at a sitting, and always to some one of the
family or dependents of the duke, who of course divided with them the
spoils. At one time the Count of Pelbes, nephew of Lerma, had won two
hundred thousand dollars in a very few nights from his sovereign.
For the rest, Philip had few peculiarities or foibles. He was not
revengeful, nor arrogant, nor malignant. He was kind and affectionate to
his wife and children, and did his best to be obedient to the Duke of
Lerma. Occasionally he liked to grant audiences, but there were few to
request them. It was ridiculous and pathetic at the same time to see the
poor king, as was very frequently the case, standing at a solemn green
table till his little legs were tired, waiting to transact business with
applicants who never came; while ushers, chamberlains, and valets were
rushing up and down the corridors, bawling for all persons so disposed to
come and have an audience of their monarch. Meantime, the doors of the
great duke's apartments in the same palace would be beleaguered by an
army of courtiers, envoys, and contractors, who had paid solid gold for
admission, and who were often sent away grumbling and despairing without
entering the sacred precincts.
As time wore on, the king, too much rebuked for attempting to meddle in
state affairs, became solitary and almost morose, moping about in the
woods by himself, losing satisfaction in his little dancing and ball-
playing diversions, but never forgetting his affection for the queen
nor the hours for his four daily substantial repasts of meats and pastry.
It would be unnecessary and almost cruel to dwell so long upon a picture
of what was after all not much better than human imbecility, were it not
that humanity is, a more sacred thing than royalty. A satire upon such
an embodiment of kingship is impossible, the simple and truthful
characteristics being more effective than fiction or exaggeration. It
would be unjust to exhume a private character after the lapse of two
centuries merely to excite derision, but if history be not powerless to
instruct, it certainly cannot be unprofitable to ponder the merits of a
system which, after bestowing upon the world forty-three years of Philip
the tyrant, had now followed them up with a decade of Philip the
In one respect the reigning sovereign was in advance of his age. In his
devotion to the Madonna he claimed the same miraculous origin for her
mother as for herself. When the prayer "O Sancta Maria sine labe
originali concepta" was chanted, he would exclaim with emotion that the
words embodied his devoutest aspirations. He had frequent interviews
with doctors of divinity on the subject, and instructed many bishops to
urge upon the pope the necessity of proclaiming the virginity of the
Virgin's mother. Could he secure this darling object of his ambition,
he professed himself ready to make a pilgrimage on foot to Rome. The
pilgrimage was never made, for it may well be imagined that Lerma would
forbid any such adventurous scheme. Meantime, the duke continued to
govern the empire and to fill his coffers, and the king to shoot rabbits.
The queen was a few years younger than her husband, and far from
beautiful. Indeed, the lower portion of her face was almost deformed.
She was graceful, however, in her movements, and pleasing and gentle in
manner. She adored the king, looking up to him with reverence as the
greatest and wisest of beings. To please him she had upon her marriage
given up drinking wine, which, for a German, was considered a great
sacrifice. She recompensed herself, as the king did, by eating to an
extent which, according to contemporary accounts, excited amazement.
Thus there was perfect sympathy between the two in the important article
of diet. She had also learned to play at cards, in order to take a hand
with him at any moment, feebly hoping that an occasional game for love
might rescue the king from that frantic passion by which his health was
shattered and so many courtiers were enriched.
Not being deficient in perception, the queen was quite aware of the
greediness of all who surrounded the palace. She had spirit enough
too to feel the galling tyranny to which the king was subjected. That
the people hated the omnipotent favourite, and believed the king to be
under the influence of sorcery, she was well aware. She had even a dim
notion that the administration of the empire was not the wisest nor the
noblest that could be devised for the first power in Christendom. But
considerations of high politics scarcely troubled her mind. Of a People
she had perhaps never heard, but she felt that the king was oppressed.
She knew that he was helpless, and that she was herself his only friend.
But of what avail were her timid little flutterings of indignation and
resistance? So pure and fragile a creature could accomplish little good
for king or people. Perpetually guarded and surrounded by the Countess
of Lemos and the Duchess of Lerma, she lived in mortal awe of both. As
to the duke himself, she trembled at his very name. On her first
attempts to speak with Philip on political matters--to hint at the
unscrupulous character of his government, to arouse him to the necessity
of striking for a little more liberty and for at least a trifling
influence in the state--the poor little king instantly betrayed her to
the favourite and she was severely punished. The duke took the monarch
off at once on a long journey, leaving her alone for weeks long with the
terrible duchess and countess. Never before had she been separated for
a day from her husband, it having been the king's uniform custom to take
her with him in all his expeditions. Her ambition to interfere was thus
effectually cured. The duke forbade her thenceforth ever to speak of
politics to her husband in public or in private--not even in bed--and the
king was closely questioned whether these orders had been obeyed. She
submitted without a struggle. She saw how completely her happiness was
at Lerma's mercy. She had no one to consult with, having none but
Spanish people about her, except her German father-confessor, whom,
as a great favour, and after a severe struggle, she had beep allowed to
retain, as otherwise her ignorance of the national language would have
made it impossible for her to confess her little sins. Moreover her
brothers, the archdukes at Gratz, were in receipt of considerable annual
stipends from the Spanish exchequer, and the duke threatened to stop
those pensions at once should the queen prove refractory. It is painful
to dwell any longer on the abject servitude in which the king and queen
were kept. The two were at least happy in each other's society, and were
blessed with mutual affection, with pretty and engaging children, and
with a similarity of tastes. It is impossible to imagine anything more
stately, more devout, more regular, more innocent, more utterly dismal
and insipid, than the lives of this wedded pair.
This interior view of the court and council of Spain will suffice to
explain why, despite the languor and hesitations with which the
transactions were managed, the inevitable tendency was towards a peace.
The inevitable slowness, secrecy, and tergiversations were due to the
dignity of the Spanish court, and in harmony with its most sacred
But what profit could the Duke of Lerma expect by the continuance of the
Dutch war, and who in Spain was to be consulted except the Duke of Lerma?