G H I J K L M 

Total read books on site:
more than 10 000

You can read its for free!

Text on one page: Few Medium Many
"Of my lord and
master the King of Spain," answered Gerard. By this time other
halberdiers and pages had come up. They dragged him into the town,
beating him with their fists and with the hilts of their swords. The
wretch, thinking from the words of the crowd that the Prince was not
dead, exclaimed with an evil composure, "Cursed be the hand whose blow
has failed!"

[Illustration: Stairway where William, the Silent, was Assassinated,
in the Prinsenhof, Delft.]

This deplorable peace of mind did not desert him for a moment. When
brought before the judges, during the long examination in the cell
where he was thrown laden with chains, he still maintained the same
remarkable tranquillity. He bore the torments to which he was
condemned without letting a cry escape him. Between the various
tortures to which he was subjected, while the officers were resting,
he conversed quietly and in a modest manner. While they were
lacerating him every now and then he raised his bloody head from the
rack and said, "Ecce homo." Several times he thanked the judges for
the nourishment he had received, and wrote his confessions with his
own hand.

He was born at Villefranche in the department of Burgundy, and studied
law with a solicitor at Dôle, and it was there that he for the first
time manifested his wish to kill William. Planting a dagger in a door,
he said, "Thus would I thrust a sword into the breast of the Prince of
Orange!" Three years later, hearing of the proclamation of Philip II.,
he went to Luxembourg, intending to assassinate the Prince, but was
stopped by the false report of his death which had been spread after
Jaurequy's attempted assassination. Soon after, learning that William
still lived, he renewed his design, and went to Mechlin to seek
counsel from the Jesuits, who encouraged him, promising him a martyr's
crown if he lost his life in the enterprise. He then went to Tournay,
and presented himself to Alexander Farnese, who confirmed the promises
of King Philip. He was approved and encouraged by the confidence of
the Prince and by the priests; he fortified himself by reading the
Bible, by fasting and prayer, and then, full of religious exaltation,
dreaming of angels and of Paradise, he left for Delft, and completed
his "duty as a good Catholic and faithful subject."

He repeated his confessions several times to the judges, without one
word of remorse or penitence. On the contrary, he boasted of his
crime, and said he was a new David, who had overthrown a new Goliath;
he declared that if he had not already killed the Prince of Orange, he
should still wish to do the deed. His courage, his calmness, his
contempt of life, his profound belief that he had accomplished a holy
mission and would die a glorious death, dismayed his judges; they
thought he must be possessed by the devil. They made inquiries, they
questioned him, but he always gave the same answer that his
conversation was with God alone.

He was sentenced on the 14th of July. His punishment has been called a
crime against the memory of the great man whose death it was intended
to avenge--a sentence to turn faint any one who had not superhuman

The assassin was condemned to have his hand enclosed and seared in a
tube of red-hot iron, to have his arms, legs, and thighs torn to
pieces with burning pincers, his bowels to be quartered, his heart to
be torn out and thrown into his face, his head to be dissevered from
his trunk and placed on a pike, his body to be cut in four pieces, and
every piece to be hung on a gibbet over one of the principal gates of
the city.

On hearing the enumeration of these horrible tortures the miserable
wretch did not flinch; he showed no sign of terror, sorrow, or
surprise. He opened his coat, bared his breast, and, fixing his
dauntless eyes on his judges, he repeated with a steady voice his
customary words, "Ecce homo!"

Was this man only a fanatic, as many believed, or a monster of
wickedness, as others held, or was he both of these inspired by a
boundless ambition?

On the next day the sentence was carried into effect. The preparations
for the execution were made before his eyes; he regarded them with
indifference. The executioner's assistant began by pounding into
pieces the pistol with which he had perpetrated the crime. At the
first blow the head of the hammer fell off and struck another
assistant on the ear. The crowd laughed, and Gerard laughed too. When
he mounted the gallows his body was already horrible to behold. He was
silent while his hand crackled and smoked in the red-hot tube; during
the time when the red-hot tongs were tearing his flesh he uttered no
cry; when the knife penetrated into his entrails he bowed his head,
murmured a few incomprehensible words, and expired.

The death of the Prince of Orange filled the country with
consternation. His body lay in state for a month, and the people
gathered round his last bed kneeling and weeping. The funeral was
worthy of a king: there were present the States General of the United
Provinces, the Council of State, and the Estates of Holland, the
magistrates, the clergy, and the princes of the house of Nassau.
Twelve noblemen bore the bier, four great nobles held the cords of the
pall, and the Prince's horse followed splendidly caparisoned and led
by his equerry. In the midst of the train of counts and barons there
was seen a young man, eighteen years of age, who was destined to
inherit the glorious legacy of the dead, to humble the Spanish arms,
and to compel Spain to sue for a truce and to recognize the
independence of the Netherlands. That young man was Maurice of Orange,
the son of William, on whom the Estates of Holland a short time after
the death of his father conferred the dignity of Stadtholder, and to
whom they afterward entrusted the supreme command of the land and
naval forces.

While Holland was mourning the death of the Prince of Orange, the
Catholic priesthood in all the cities under Spanish rule were
rejoicing over the assassination and extolling the assassin. The
Jesuits exalted him as a martyr, the University of Louvain published
his defence, the canons of Bois-le-Duc chanted a Te Deum. After a few
years the King of Spain bestowed on Gerard's family a title and the
confiscated property of the Prince of Orange in Burgundy.

The house where William was murdered is still standing: it is a
dark-looking building with arched windows and a narrow door, and forms
part of the cloister of an old cathedral consecrated to St. Agatha. It
still bears the name of Prinsenhof, although it is now used for
artillery barracks. I got permission to enter from the officer on
guard. A corporal who understood a little French accompanied me. We
crossed a courtyard full of soldiers, and arrived at the memorable
place. I saw the staircase the Prince was mounting when he was
attacked, the dark corner where Gerard hid himself, the door of the
room where the unfortunate William dined for the last time, and the
mark of the bullets on the wall in a little whitewashed space which
bears a Dutch inscription reminding one that here died the father of
his country. The corporal showed me where the assassin had fled. While
I was looking round, with that pensive curiosity that one feels in
places where great crimes have been committed, soldiers were
ascending and descending; they stopped to look at me, and then went
away singing and whistling; some near me were humming; others were
laughing loudly in the courtyard. All this youthful gayety was in
sharp and moving contrast to the sad gravity of those memories, and
seemed like a festival of children in the room where died a
grandparent whose memory we cherish.

Opposite the barracks is the oldest church in Delft. It contains the
tomb of the famous Admiral Tromp, the veteran of the Dutch navy, who
saw thirty-two naval battles, and in 1652, at the battle of the Downs,
defeated the English fleet commanded by Blake. He re-entered his
country with a broom tied to the masthead of the admiral's ship to
indicate that he had swept the English off the seas. Here also is the
tomb of Peter Heyn, who from a simple fisherman rose to be a great
admiral, and took that memorable netful of Spanish ships that had
under their hatches more than eleven million florins; also the tomb of
Leeuwenhoek, the father of the science of the infinitely small--who,
with the "divining-glass," as Parini says, "saw primitive man swimming
in the genital wave." The church has a high steeple surmounted by four
conical turrets. It is inclined like the Tower of Pisa, because the
ground has sunk beneath it. Gerard was imprisoned in one of the cells
of this tower on the night of the assassination.

[Illustration: Refectory of the Convent of St. Agatha, Delft.]

At Rotterdam I had been given a letter to a citizen of Delft asking
him to show me his house. The letter read: "He desires to penetrate
into the mysteries of an old Dutch house; lift for a moment the
curtain of the sanctuary." The house was not hard to find, and as soon
as I saw it I said to myself, "That is the house for me!"

It was a red cottage, one story in height, with a long peaked gable,
situated at the end of a street which stretched out into the country.
It stood almost on the edge of a canal, leaning a little forward, as
if it wished to see its reflection in the water. A pretty linden tree
grew in front which spread over the window like a great fan, and a
drawbridge lay before the door. Then there were the white curtains,
the green doors, the flowers, the looking-glasses--in fact, it was a
perfect little model of a Dutch house.

The road was deserted. Before I knocked at the door I waited a little
while, looking at it and thinking. That house made me understand
Holland better than all the books I had read. It was at the same time
the expression and the reason of the domestic love, of the modest
desires, and the independent nature of the Dutch people. In our
country there is no such thing as the true house: there are only
divisions in barracks, abstract habitations, which are not ours, but
in which we live hidden, but not alone, hearing a thousand noises made
by people who are strangers to us, who disturb our sorrows with the
echo of their joys and interrupt our joys with the echo of their

Pages: | Prev | | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | 14 | | 15 | | 16 | | 17 | | 18 | | 19 | | 20 | | 21 | | 22 | | 23 | | 24 | | 25 | | 26 | | 27 | | 28 | | 29 | | 30 | | 31 | | 32 | | 33 | | 34 | | 35 | | 36 | | 37 | | Next |

U V W X Y Z 

Your last read book:

You dont read books at this site.