Awakening of Europe - M. B. Synge

The Storm Bursts

"Like one fierce cloud over a waste of waves

Hung Tyranny."


The answer from Philip had come, but a more terrible one was to follow. The news soon spread through the already heart-broken Netherlands, that the Duke of Alva was on his way with a splendid Spanish army, to suppress in the country the struggle for religious liberty. All knew what this meant. Alva's name was known and feared throughout Europe. Like his royal master, he would have no mercy, no pity on the Netherlands. He had come to conquer, not to make peace.

"I have tamed men of iron in my day," he had said with contempt; "shall I not easily crush these men of butter?"

The whole country shuddered at the arrival of this man, as they prepared, almost hopelessly, to defend their religious liberty to the end. Alva's first act was to get rid of the Counts Egmont and Horn, who, though rigid Roman Catholics, had openly showed their disgust at the cruelty and injustice of the Inquisition. Professing great friendship for them, he invited them both to his house in Brussels one evening to talk over the plans—so he said—of a great castle he meant to build in Antwerp. The counts went, though they had been warned of treachery. A large plan of the proposed castle lay on the table, and the counts discussed it warmly with Alva. Suddenly Alva, feigning illness, left the room. Not long after, the party broke up. The Count Horn had left, and Egmont was leaving, when he was requested to stay behind a moment. Then a Spanish soldier ordered him to give up his sword; others rushed in, and he was hurried to a dark room with barred windows and hung with black. Meanwhile the Count Horn had been arrested outside, and both were sent to a dungeon in the Castle of Ghent.

Having accomplished this, Alva next appointed a council of men to help him in carrying out the king's commands. This council is known to history by the terrible name of the "Blood-Council," and so thoroughly did it perform its deadly work that in three months 1800 human beings had suffered death at its hands. Men, women, children were beheaded or burnt. There were stakes and scaffolds in every village, every hour tolled the church bells for one who had suffered in their midst. It seemed as if the spirit of the nation was broken, as if the suffering people could endure no more.

Having been confined in the Castle of Ghent for nearly a year, the Counts Egmont and Horn were now brought up for trial before the Blood-Council. They were found guilty and condemned to die by the sword on the following day, their heads to hang on high in some public place decreed by Alva. He knew the death of the counts would have a great effect on the people of the Netherlands.

It was a summer morning in the June of 1568. Three thousand Spanish troops were drawn up in battle array round the scaffold, which had been set up in the large square at Brussels. Then Count Egmont was led forth. He wore a robe of red damask, over which was thrown a short black mantle worked in gold, while on his head he wore a black silk hat with plumes.

"Hear my cry, O God, and give ear unto my prayer," he cried as he walked to his death.

He was beheaded together with his friend and countryman, Count Horn. As Alva had foretold, their deaths made a deep impression on the public mind. If tears fell from the eyes of the Netherlanders, they also fell from those of the Spanish soldiers, who had respected the counts as brave and valiant generals. It is said, too, that tears were even seen on the iron cheek of Alva, who was gazing at the ghastly scene from a window opposite. But from that hour the people hated Alva with a more bitter hatred than before. The death of such nobles of high birth filled the land with horror and anguish. They determined never to rest till they had overthrown the power of Spain.

Alva was now Governor-General of the Netherlands, and Margaret had left the country for ever.