War in the Netherlands

For more than a century after the Reformation, religion was the real or apparent motive of the most remarkable transactions in European history. It is scarcely necessary to point out that this sentiment, though in general the purest by which human beings can be actuated, is, like all the other higher sentiments of our nature, when offended or shocked, capable of rousing the inferior sentiments into great activity. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, European society was comparatively unenlightened and barbarous; we therefore find the variances of opinion respecting religion were then productive of far fiercer feelings than they are in our own more humane age. The Protestant heresy, as it was termed by the Catholics, was also a novelty, the remote effects of which no man could foretell; it was mingled with political questions, and by some princes was supposed to forebode a general revolt against monarchical authority. We are not therefore to wonder that great cruelties were committed, either by the Catholics in seeking to support the church of Rome, or by the Protestants in endeavoring to insure themselves against a renewal of severities inflicted by the opposite party. Nor is it necessary, in the present age, that the adherents of either faith should retain any feeling of displeasure against the other, on account of barbarities which took their rise in the ignorance and rudeness of a former period, and of which the enlightened of both parties have long since disapproved.

In the Netherlands, which formed part of the dominions of Philip II of Spain, the reformed faith had made considerable advances. Philip, like other Catholic princes, entertained the idea that this new creed, besides being condemnable as a heresy and an offense against the Deity, tended to make men independent of their rulers. Finding the people obstinate in their professions, he commenced a war with the Netherlanders, for the purpose of enforcing his authority over their consciences. This war las ted about twenty years for the Netherlanders, though a nation of no great strength, fought like desperate men, and endured the most dreadful hardships rather than submit. The chief leader in this war of liberty was William, Prince of Orange, one of the purest and most courageous patriots that ever breathed. Elizabeth could not help wishing well to the Nether landers, though for a long time her dread of Spain, then one of the great est powers in Europe, prevented her from openly assisting them. At the same time, about two millions of the people of France were Protestants, or, as they were then called, Huguenots, who acted also for the general Protestant cause with as much energy as the great strength of the French government would permit. Elizabeth at length, in 1578, extended an. open protection to the Netherlanders, excusing herself to Philip by stating her fear that they would otherwise throw themselves into the arms of France. The northern provinces were thus enabled to assert their independence, and to constitute the country which has since been called Holland.