CHAPTER IV. THE REVOLT OF THE NETHERLANDS

The complete failure of the expeditions of Hoogstraeten and of Lewis of Nassau was a great discouragement to the Prince of Orange. Nevertheless after receiving the news of Jemmingen he wrote to his brother, "With God's help I am determined to go on." By great exertions he succeeded in gathering together a heterogeneous force of German and Walloon mercenaries numbering about 18,000 men, and with these in the beginning of October he crossed the frontier. But to maintain such a force in the field required far larger financial resources than William had at his disposal. Alva was aware of this, and, as the prince made his way into Brabant, he followed his steps with a small body of veteran troops, cutting off supplies and stragglers, but declining battle. The mercenaries, debarred from plunder and in arrears of pay, could not be kept together more than a few weeks. In November Orange withdrew into France and disbanded the remnants of his army. In disguise he managed to escape with some difficulty through France to Dillenburg. His brothers, Lewis and Henry, joined the Huguenot army under Coligny and took part in the battles of Moncontour and Jarnac.

Alva was now apparently supreme in the Netherlands; and crowds of refugees fled the country to escape the wholesale persecutions of the Council of Blood. Alva however, like his predecessor and indeed like all Spanish governors engaged in carrying out the policy of Philip II, was always hampered by lack of funds. The Spanish treasury was empty. The governor-general's troops no less than those of Orange clamoured for their regular pay, and it was necessary to find means to satisfy them. The taxes voted for nine years in 1559 had come to an end. New taxes could only be imposed with the assent of the States-General. Alva, however, after his victory at Jemmingen and the dispersion of the army of Orange, felt himself strong enough to summon the States-General and demand their assent to the scheme of taxation which he proposed. The governor-general asked for (1) a tax of five per cent., the "twentieth penny," on all transfers of real estate, (2) a tax of ten per cent., the "tenth penny," on all sales of commodities. These taxes, which were an attempt to introduce into the Netherlands the system known in Castile as alcabala, were to be granted in perpetuity, thus, as the duke hoped, obviating the necessity of having again to summon the States-General. In addition to these annual taxes he proposed a payment once for all of one per cent., "the hundredth penny," on all property, real or personal. Such a demand was contrary to all precedent in the Netherlands and an infringement of time-honoured charters and privileges; and even the terror, which Alva's iron-handed tyranny had inspired, did not prevent his meeting with strong opposition. The proposals had to be referred to the provincial estates, and everywhere difficulties were raised. All classes were united in resistance. Petitions came pouring in protesting against impositions which threatened to ruin the trade and industries of the country. Alva found it impossible to proceed.

The "hundredth penny" was voted, but instead of the other taxes, which were to provide a steady annual income, he had to content himself with a fixed payment of 2,000,000 guilders for two years only. The imposition of these taxes on the model of the alcabala had been part of a scheme for sweeping away all the provincial jurisdictions and rights and forming the whole of the Netherlands into a unified state, as subservient to despotic rule as was Castile itself. A greater centralisation of government had been the constant policy of the Burgundian and Habsburg rulers since the time of Philip the Good, a policy to be commended if carried out in a statesmanlike and moderate spirit without any sudden or violent infringement of traditional liberties. The aim of Philip of Spain as it was interpreted by his chosen instrument, the Duke of Alva, was far more drastic. With Alva and his master all restrictions upon the absolute authority of the sovereign were obstacles to be swept remorselessly out of the way; civil and religious liberty in their eyes deserved no better fate than to be suppressed by force. Alva's experience was that of many would-be tyrants before and since his day, that the successful application of force is limited by the power of the purse. His exchequer was empty. Philip was himself in financial difficulties and could spare him no money from Spain. The refusal of the provincial estates of the Netherlands to sanction his scheme of taxation deprived him of the means for imposing his will upon them. His reign of terror had produced throughout the land a superficial appearance of peace. There were at the beginning of 1570 no open disturbances or insurrectionary movements to be crushed, but the people were seething with discontent, and the feeling of hatred aroused by the presence of the Spanish Inquisition and the foreign soldiery and by the proceedings of the Council of Blood was, day by day, becoming deeper and more embittered.