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Chapter XIX. Steenwyk

Three days passed, and then a slight noise was heard as of the trap door being raised. Lionel drew his sword.

"It is my servant, no doubt," the merchant said; "he promised to come and tell me how things went as soon as he could get an opportunity to come down unobserved. We should hear more noise if it were the Spaniards." Taking a light he went along the passage, and returned immediately afterwards followed by his man; the latter had his head bound up, and carried his arm in a sling. An exclamation of pity broke from the ladies.

"You are badly hurt, Jacques. What has happened?"

"It is well it is no worse, mistress," he replied. "The Spaniards are fiends, and behaved as if they were sacking a city of Dutch Huguenots instead of entering a town inhabited by friends. For an hour or two they cut and slashed, pillaged and robbed. They came rushing into the shop, and before I could say a word one ran me through the shoulder and another laid my head open. It was an hour or two before I came to my senses. I found the house turned topsy turvy; everything worth taking had gone, and what was not taken was damaged. I tied up my head and arm as best I could, and then sat quiet in a corner till the din outside began to subside. The officers did their best, I hear, and at last got the men into order. Numbers of the townsfolk have been killed, and every one of the garrison was butchered. I tell you, mistress, it is better to have ten Huguenot armies in possession one after another than one Spanish force, though the latter come as friends and co-religionists. Well, as soon as things quieted down the soldiers were divided among the houses of the townsfolk, and we have a sergeant and ten men quartered above; but half an hour ago they were called away on some duty, and I took the opportunity to steal down here."

"Have you told them that we were away, Jacques?"

"No, monsieur; no one has asked me about it. They saw by the pictures and shrines that you were good Catholics, and after the first outburst they have left things alone. But if it is not too dreary for the ladies here, I should advise you to wait for a time and see how things go before you show yourselves."

"That is my opinion too, Jacques. We can wait here for another two months if need be. Doubtless, unless the Huguenots show signs of an intention to attack the town, only a small garrison will be left here, and it may be that those in our house will be withdrawn."

"Do you think it will be possible for me to make my escape, Jacques?" Lionel asked.

"I should think so, sir. Ever since the Spaniards entered the town boats with provisions for Paris have been coming along in great numbers. From what I hear the soldiers say there is no chance of a battle at present, for the Huguenot army have drawn off to a distance, seeing that Paris is revictualled and that there is no chance of taking it. They say that numbers of the French lords with the Huguenot army have drawn off and are making for their homes. At any rate there is no fear of an attack here, and the gates stand open all day. Numbers of the townsfolk have been to Paris to see friends there, and I should say that if you had a disguise you could pass out easily enough."

The question was discussed for some time. Lionel was very anxious to rejoin the army, and it was finally settled that Jacques should the next night bring him down a suit of his own clothes, and the first time the soldiers were all away should fetch him out, accompany him through the gates of the town, and act as his guide as far as he could.

The next night Lionel received the clothes. Two days later Jacques came down early in the morning to say that the soldiers above had just gone out on duty. Lionel at once assumed his disguise, and with the heartiest thanks for the great service they had rendered him took his leave of the kind merchant and his family. Jacques was charged to accompany him as far as possible, and to set him well on his way towards the Huguenot army, for Lionel's small knowledge of French would be detected by the first person who accosted him. On going out into the street Lionel found that there were many peasants who had come in to sell fowls, eggs, and vegetables in the town, and he and Jacques passed without a question through the gates.

Jacques had, the evening before, ascertained from the soldiers the position of Parma's army. A long detour had to be made, and it was two days before they came in sight of the tents of Henry's camp. They had observed the greatest precautions on their way, and had only once fallen in with a troop of Parma's cavalry. These had asked no questions, supposing that Jacques and his companion were making their way from Paris to visit their friends after the siege, there being nothing in their attire to attract attention, still less suspicion. The peasants they met on their way eagerly demanded news from Paris, but Jacques easily satisfied them by saying that they had had a terrible time, and that many had died of hunger, but that now that the river was open again better times had come. When within a couple of miles of the army Jacques said good-bye to Lionel, who would have rewarded him handsomely for his guidance, but Jacques would not accept money.

"You are the master's guest," he said, "and you saved his house from plunder when your people were in possession. He and my mistress would never forgive me if I took money from you. I am well content in having been able to assist so kind a young gentleman."

When Lionel arrived at the camp he soon found his way to Sir Ralph Pimpernel's tent, where he was received as one from the dead. There was no difficulty in providing himself again with armour and arms, for of these there were abundance -- the spoils of Ivry -- in the camp. When he was reclothed and rearmed Sir Ralph took him to the king's tent, and from him Henry learned for the first time the circumstances that had attended the capture of Lagny.

"And so they put the whole garrison to the sword," the king said with indignation. "I will make any Spaniards that fall in my hands pay dearly for it!"

Henry had indeed been completely out generalled by his opponent. While he had been waiting with his army for a pitched battle Parma had invested Lagny, and there were no means of relieving it except by crossing the river in the face of the whole army of the enemy, an enterprise impossible of execution. As soon as Lagny had fallen provisions and ammunition were at once poured into Paris, two thousand boat loads arriving in a single day.

King Henry's army immediately fell to pieces. The cavalry having neither food nor forage rode off by hundreds every day, and in a week but two thousand out of his six thousand horse remained with him. The infantry also, seeing now no hope of receiving their arrears of pay, disbanded in large numbers, and after an unsuccessful attempt to carry Paris by a night attack, the king fell back with the remnant of his force. Corbeil was assaulted and captured by Parma, and the two great rivers of Paris were now open.

If Parma could have remained with his army in France, the cause of Henry of Navarre would have been lost. But sickness was making ravages among his troops. Dissensions broke our between the Spaniards, Italians, and Netherlanders of his army and their French allies, who hated the foreigners, though they had come to their assistance. Lastly, his presence was urgently required in the Netherlands, where his work was as far from being done as ever. Therefore to the dismay of the Leaguers he started early in November on his march back.

No sooner did he retire than the king took the field again, recaptured Lagny and Corbeil, and recommenced the siege of Paris, while his cavalry hung upon the rear and flanks of Parma's army and harassed them continually, until they crossed the frontier, where the duke found that affairs had not improved during his absence.

Lionel had obtained permission to accompany the force which captured Lagny, and as soon as they entered the town hurried to the mercer's house. He found Jacques in possession, and learned that the family had weeks before left the crypt and reoccupied the house, but had again taken refuge there when the Huguenots attacked the town. Lionel at once went below, and was received with delight. He was now able to repay to some extent the obligations he had received from them, by protecting them from all interference by the new captors of the town, from whom the majority of the citizens received harsh treatment for the part they had taken in attacking the garrison when the Spaniards first entered.

Prince Maurice's visit to the camp of Henry had been but a short one; and as soon as Parma had effected the relief of Paris, and there was no longer a chance of a great battle being fought, he returned to Holland, followed after the recapture of Lagny by Sir Ralph Pimpernel and the few survivors of his party, who were all heartily weary of the long period of inaction that had followed the victory at Ivry.

They found that during their absence there had been little doing in the Netherlands, save that Sir Francis Vere, with a small body of English infantry and cavalry, had stormed some formidable works the Spaniards had thrown up to prevent relief being given to Recklinghausen, which they were besieging. He effected the relief of the town and drove off the besiegers. He then attacked and captured a fort on the bank of the Rhine, opposite the town of Wesel.

At the end of the year 1590 there were, including the garrisons, some eight thousand English infantry and cavalry in Holland, and the year that followed was to see a great change in the nature of the war. The efforts of Prince Maurice to improve his army were to bear effect, and with the assistance of his English allies he was to commence an active offensive war, to astonish his foes by the rapidity with which he manoeuvred the new fighting machine he had created, and to commence a new departure in the tactics of war.

In May he took the field, requesting Vere to cooperate with him in the siege of Zutphen. But Sir Francis determined in the first place to capture on his own account the Zutphen forts on the opposite side of the river, since these had been lost by the treachery of Roland Yorke. He dressed up a score of soldiers, some as peasants, others as countrywomen, and provided them with baskets of eggs and other provisions. At daybreak these went down by twos and threes to the Zutphen ferry, as if waiting to be taken across to the town; and while waiting for the boat to come across for them, they sat down near the gate of the fort.

A few minutes later a party of English cavalry were seen riding rapidly towards the fort. The pretended country people sprang to their feet, and with cries of alarm ran towards it for shelter. The gates were thrown open to allow them to enter. As they ran in they drew out the arms concealed under their clothes and overpowered the guard. The cavalry dashed up and entered the gate before the garrison could assemble, and the fort was captured.

Vere at once began to throw up his batteries for the attack upon the town across the river, and the prince invested the city on the other side. So diligently did the besiegers work that before a week had passed after the surprise of the fort the batteries were completed, thirty-two guns placed in position, and the garrison, seeing there was no hope of relief, surrendered.

On the very day of taking possession of the town, the allies, leaving a garrison there, marched against Deventer, seven miles down the river, and within five days had invested the place, and opened their batteries upon the weakest part of the town. A breach was effected, and a storm was ordered. A dispute arose between the English, Scotch, and Dutch troops as to who should have the honour of leading the assault. Prince Maurice decided in favour of the English, in order that they might have an opportunity of wiping out the stigma on the national honour caused by the betrayal of Deventer by the traitor Sir William Stanley.

To reach the breach it was necessary to cross a piece of water called the Haven. Sir Francis Vere led the English across the bridge of boats which had been thrown over the water; but the bridge was too short. Some of the troops sprang over and pushed boldly for the breach, others were pushed over and drowned. Many of those behind stripped off their armour and swam across the Haven, supported by some Dutch troops who had been told off to follow the assaulting party. But at the breach they were met by Van der Berg, the governor, with seven companies of soldiers, and these fought so courageously that the assailants were unable to win their way up the breach, and fell back at last with a loss of two hundred and twenty-five men killed and wounded.

While the assault was going on, the artillery of the besiegers continued to play upon other parts of the town, and effected great damage. On the following night the garrison endeavoured to capture the bridge across the Haven, but were repulsed with loss, and in the morning the place surrendered. The success of the patriots was due in no slight degree to the fact that Parma with the greatest part of his army was again absent in France, and the besieged towns had therefore no hope of assistance from without. The States now determined to seize the opportunity of capturing the towns held by the Spaniards in Friesland.

The three principal towns in the possession of the Spaniards were Groningen, Steenwyk, and Coevorden. After capturing several less important places and forts Prince Maurice advanced against Steenwyk. But just as he was about to commence the siege he received pressing letters from the States to hurry south, as Parma was marching with his whole army to capture the fort of Knodsenburg, which had been raised in the previous autumn as a preparation for the siege of the important city of Nymegen.

The Duke of Parma considered that he had ample time to reduce Knodsenburg before Prince Maurice could return to its assistance. Two great rivers barred the prince's return, and he would have to traverse the dangerous district called the Foul Meadow, and the great quagmire known as the Rouvenian Morass. But Prince Maurice had now an opportunity of showing the excellence of the army he had raised and trained. He received the news of Parma's advance on the 15th of July; two days later he was on the march south, and in five days had thrown bridges of boats across the two rivers, had crossed morass and swamp, and appeared in front of the Spanish army.

One assault had already been delivered by the Spaniards against Knodsenburg, but this had been repulsed with heavy loss. As soon as the patriot army approached the neighbourhood, Parma's cavalry went out to drive in its skirmishers. Vere at once proposed to Prince Maurice to inflict a sharp blow upon the enemy, and with the approval of the prince marched with 1200 foot and 500 horse along the dyke which ran across the low country. Marching to a spot where a bridge crossed a narrow river he placed half his infantry in ambush there; the other half a quarter of a mile further back.

Two hundred light cavalry were sent forward to beat up the enemy's outposts, and then retreat; the rest of the cavalry were posted in the rear of the infantry. Another dyke ran nearly parallel with the first, falling into it at some distance in the rear of Vere's position, and here Prince Maurice stationed himself with a body of horse and foot to cover Vere's retreat should he be obliged to fall back. About noon the light cavalry skirmished with the enemy and fell back, but were not followed. About half an hour later the scouts brought word that the Spaniards were at hand.

Suddenly and without orders 800 of Maurice's cavalry galloped off to meet the enemy; but they soon came back again at full speed, with a strong force of Spanish cavalry in pursuit. Vere's infantry at once sallied out from their ambush among the trees, poured their fire into the enemy, and charged them with their pikes. The Spaniards turned to fly, when Vere's cavalry charged them furiously and drove them back in headlong rout to their own camp, taking a great number of prisoners, among them many officers of rank, and 500 horses. Parma finding himself thus suddenly in face of a superior army, with a rapid river in his rear, fell back across the Waal, and then proceeded to Spa to recruit his shattered health, leaving Verdugo, an experienced officer, in command.

Instead of proceeding to besiege Nymegen, Maurice marched away as suddenly and quickly as before, and captured Hulst, on the borders of Zeeland and Brabant, a dozen miles only from Antwerp, and then turning again was, in three days, back at Nymegen, and had placed sixty-eight pieces of artillery in position. He opened fire on the 20th of October, and the next day the important city of Nymegen surrendered. This series of brilliant successes greatly raised the spirits of the Netherlanders, and proportionately depressed those of the Spaniards and their adherents.

Parma himself was ill from annoyance and disappointment. The army with which he might have completed the conquest of the Netherlands had, in opposition to his entreaties and prayers, been frittered away by Philip's orders in useless expeditions in France, while the young and active generals of the Dutch and English armies were snatching town after town from his grasp, and consolidating the Netherlands, so recently broken up by Spanish strongholds, into a compact body, whose increasing wealth and importance rendered it every day a more formidable opponent. It is true that Parma had saved first Paris and afterwards Rouen for the League, but it was at the cost of loosening Philip's hold over the most important outpost of the Spanish dominions.

In the following spring Parma was again forced to march into France with 20,000 men, and Maurice, as soon as the force started, prepared to take advantage of its absence. With 6000 foot and 2000 horse he again appeared at the end of May before Steenwyk. This town was the key to the province of Drenthe, and one of the safeguards of Friesland; it was considered one of the strongest fortresses of the time. Its garrison consisted of sixteen companies of foot and some cavalry, and 1200 Walloon infantry, commanded by Lewis, the youngest of the Counts de Berg, a brave lad of eighteen years of age.

In this siege, for the first time, the spade was used by soldiers in the field. Hitherto the work had been considered derogatory to troops, and peasants and miners had been engaged for the work; but Prince Maurice had taught his soldiers that their duty was to work as well as fight, and they now proved the value of his teaching.

The besieged made several successful sorties, and Sir Francis Vere had been severely wounded in the leg. The cannonade effected but little damage on the strong walls; but the soldiers, working night and day, drove mines under two of the principal bastions, and constructed two great chambers there; these were charged, one with five thousand pounds of powder, the other with half that quantity. On the 3d of July the mines were sprung. The bastion of the east gate was blown to pieces and the other bastion greatly injured, but many of the Dutch troops standing ready for the assault were also killed by the explosion.

The storming parties, however, rushed forward, and the two bastions were captured. This left the town at the mercy of the besiegers. The next day the garrison surrendered, and were permitted to march away. Three hundred and fifty had been killed, among them young Count Lewis Van der Berg, and two hundred had been left behind, severely wounded, in the town. Between five and six hundred of the besiegers were killed during the course of the siege. The very day after the surrender of Steenwyk Maurice marched away and laid siege to Coevorden. This city, which was most strongly fortified, lay between two great swamps, between which there was a passage of about half a mile in width.

Another of the Van der Bergs, Count Frederick, commanded the garrison of a thousand veterans. Verdugo sent to Parma and Mondragon for aid, but none could be sent to him, and the prince worked at his fortifications undisturbed. His force was weakened by the withdrawal of Sir Francis Vere with three of the English regiments, Elizabeth having sent peremptory orders that this force should follow those already withdrawn to aid Henry of Navarre in Brittany. Very unwillingly Vere obeyed, and marched to Doesburg on the Yssel. But a fortnight after he arrived there, while he was waiting for ships to transport him to Brittany the news came to him that Verdugo, having gathered a large force together, was about to attack Prince Maurice in his camp, and Vere at once started to the prince's aid.

On the night of the 6th of September, Verdugo, with 4000 foot and 1800 cavalry, wearing their shirts outside their armour to enable them to distinguish each other in the dark, fell upon Maurice's camp. Fortunately the prince was prepared, having intercepted a letter from Verdugo to the governor of the town. A desperate battle took place, but at break of day, while its issue was still uncertain, Vere, who had marched all night, came up and threw himself into the battle. His arrival was decisive. Verdugo drew off with a loss of 300 killed, and five days later Coevorden surrendered, and Prince Maurice's army went into winter quarters.

A few weeks later Parma died, killed by the burden Philip threw upon him, broken down by the constant disappointment of his hopes of carrying his work to a successful end, by the incessant interference of Philip with his plans, and by the anxiety caused by the mutinies arising from his inability to pay his troops, although he had borrowed to the utmost on his own possessions, and pawned even his jewels to keep them from starvation. He was undoubtedly the greatest commander of his age, and had he been left to carry out his own plans would have crushed out the last ember of resistance in the Netherlands and consolidated the power of Spain there.

He was succeeded in his post by the Archduke Albert, but for a time Ernest Mansfeldt continued to command the army, and to manage the affairs in the Netherlands. In March, 1593, Prince Maurice appeared with his army in front of Gertruydenberg. The city itself was an important one, and its position on the Maas rendered it of the greatest use to the Spaniards, as through it they were at any moment enabled to penetrate into the heart of Holland. Gertruydenberg and Groningen, the capital of Friesland, were now, indeed, the only important places in the republic that remained in possession of the Spaniards. Hohenlohe with a portion of the army established himself to the east of the city, Maurice with its main body to the west.

Two bridges constructed across the river Douge afforded a means of communication between two armies, and plank roads were laid across the swamps for the passage of baggage wagons. Three thousand soldiers laboured incessantly at the works, which were intended not only to isolate the city, but to defend the besiegers from any attack that might be made upon them by a relieving army. The better to protect themselves, miles of country were laid under water, and palisade work erected to render the country impregnable by cavalry.

Ernest Mansfeldt did his best to relieve the town. His son, Count Charles, with five thousand troops, had been sent into France, but by sweeping up all the garrisons, he moved with a considerable army towards Gertruydenberg and challenged Maurice to issue out from his lines to fight him. But the prince had no idea of risking a certain success upon the issue of a battle.

A hundred pieces of artillery on the batteries played incessantly on the town, while a blockading squadron of Zeeland ships assisted in the bombardment, and so terrible was the fire, that when the town was finally taken only four houses were found to have escaped injury.

Two commandants of the place were killed one after the other, and the garrison of a thousand veterans, besides the burgher militia, was greatly reduced in strength. At last, after ninety days' siege, the town suddenly fell. Upon the 24th of June three Dutch captains were relieving guard in the trenches near the great north bastion of the town, when it occurred to them to scale the wall of the fort and see what was going on inside. They threw some planks across the ditch, and taking half a company of soldiers, climbed cautiously up. They obtained a foothold before the alarm was given. There was a fierce hand to hand struggle, and sixteen of the party fell, and nine of the garrison. The rest fled into the city. The Governor Gysant, rushing to the rescue without staying to put on his armour, was killed.

Count Solms came from the besieging camp to investigate the sudden uproar, and to his profound astonishment was met by a deputation from the city asking for terms of surrender. Prince Maurice soon afterwards came up, and the terms of capitulation were agreed upon. The garrison were allowed to retire with side arms and baggage, and fifty wagons were lent to them to carry off their wounded.

In the following spring Coevorden, which had been invested by Verdugo, was relieved, and Groningen, the last great city of the Netherlands in the hands of the Spaniards, was besieged. Mines were driven under its principal bastion, and when these were sprung, after sixty-five days' siege, the city was forced to surrender. Thus for the first time, after years of warfare, Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland became truly united, and free from the grasp of the hated invader.

Throughout the last three years of warfare Sir Francis Vere had proved an able assistant to the prince, and the English troops had fought bravely side by side with the Dutch; but their contingent had been but a small one, for the majority of Vere's force had, like that of the Spaniards, been withdrawn for service in France. The struggle in that country was nearly at an end. The conversion of Henry of Navarre for the second time to the Catholic religion had ranged many Catholics, who had hitherto been opposed to him, under his banner, while many had fallen away from the ranks of the League in disgust, when Philip of Spain at last threw off the mask of disinterestedness, and proposed his nephew the Archduke Ernest as king of France.

In July, 1595, a serious misfortune befell the allied army. They had laid siege to Crolle, and had made considerable progress with the siege, when the Spanish army, under command of Mondragon, the aged governor of Antwerp, marched to its relief. As the army of Maurice was inferior in numbers, the States would nor consent to a general action. The siege was consequently raised; and Mondragon having attained his object, fell back to a position on the Rhine at Orsoy, above Rheinberg, whence he could watch the movements of the allied army encamped on the opposite bank at Bislich, a few miles below Wesel.

The Spanish army occupied both sides of the river, the wing on the right bank being protected from attack by the river Lippe, which falls into the Rhine at Wesel, and by a range of moorland hills called the Testerburg. The Dutch cavalry saw that the slopes of this hill were occupied by the Spaniards, but believed that their force consisted only of a few troops of horse. Young Count Philip of Nassau proposed that a body of cavalry should swim the Lippe, and attack and cut them off. Prince Maurice and Sir Francis Vere gave a very reluctant consent to the enterprise, but finally allowed him to take a force of five hundred men.

With him were his brothers Ernest and Louis, his nephew Ernest de Solms, and many other nobles of Holland. Sir Marcellus Bacx was in command of them. The English contingent was commanded by Sir Nicholas Parker and Robert Vere. On August 22d they swam the Lippe and galloped in the direction where they expected to find two or three troops of Spanish horse; but Mondragon had received news of their intentions, and they suddenly saw before them half the Spanish army. Without hesitation the five hundred English and Dutch horsemen charged desperately into the enemy's ranks, and fought with extraordinary valour, until, altogether overpowered by numbers, Philip of Nassau and his nephew Ernest were both mortally wounded and taken prisoners.

Robert Vere was slain by a lance thrust in the face, and many other nobles and gentlemen fell. Thus died one of the three brave brothers, for the youngest, Horace, had also joined the army in 1590. The survivors of the band under Sir Nicholas Parker and Marcellus Bacx managed to effect their retreat, covered by a reserve Prince Maurice had posted on the opposite side of the river.

G. A. Henty