« AnteriorContinuar »
created a false alarm by a pretended descent on Antwerp, and, having as he supposed, thrown the Netherlanders entirely off their guard, marched his troops and invested Maestricht. When the people of Maestricht saw the Spaniards arrive and settle down before their town, there is no doubt of the apprehension as to the result which filled their minds. Not only had Antwerp tasted of Spanish fury, but the fair city of Haarlem, after a protracted siege in which women played a distinguished part, had fallen, and Spanish vengeance had been taken in bloody massacre. Haarlem was
fresh in the recollection of the citizens when the siege of Maestricht began.
There was an old castle called Carpen in the neighbourhood, and although the garrison were very confident as to its own strength, the Spaniards surprised it one January night and hanged all the troopers in the orchard; it was a beautiful moonlight night, and the pastime of murdering the patriots afforded excellent sport to Spanish chivalry.
The occupation of Carpen gave a decided advantage to the Duke of Parma. When news of the surprise reached William the Silent, he saw
at once the danger which threatened Maestricht, and he lost no time in imploring the States "not to fall asleep in the shade of a peace negociation." Parma in the meantime threw two bridges over the Maas, one above and the other below the city; he then invested the place so closely that all communication was absolutely suspended.
"To military minds of that epoch-perhaps of later ages-this achievement of Parma seemed a masterpiece of art. The city commanded the Upper Maas, and was the gate into Germany. It contained thirty-four thousand inhabitants. An army, numbering almost as many souls, was brought against it; and the number of deaths by which its capture was at last effected, was probably equal to that of a moiety of the population. To the technical mind, the siege, no doubt, seemed a beautiful creation of human intelligence. To the honest student of history, to the lover of human progress, such a manifestation of intellect seems a sufficiently sad exhibition. Given, a city strong with walls and towers, a slender garrison and a devoted population on one side; a consummate chieftain on the other, with an army of veterans at his back, no interruption to fear, and a long season to work in; it would not seem, to an unsophisticated mind, a very lofty exploit for the soldier to carry the city at the end of four months' hard labour."
The investment of Maestricht was commenced upon the 12th of March, 1579. The military commandant of the city was Melchior. Sebastian Tappin, a Lorraine officer of much experience and bravery, was next in command, and was in truth, the principal director of the operations. He had been despatched thither by the Prince of Orange to serve under La Noue, a gallant officer, who was to have commanded in Maestricht, but had been unable to enter the city. Feeling that the siege was to be a close one, and knowing how much depended upon the issue, Sebastian lost no time in making every needful preparation for coming events. The walls were strengthened everywhere; shafts were sunk, preparatory to the countermining operations which were soon to become necessary; the moat was deepened and cleared, and the forts near the gates were put in thorough repair. There were six gates to the town, each provided with ravelins, and there was a doubt in what direction the first attack should be made. Opinions wavered between the gate of Bois-le-Duc, next the river, and that of Tongres on the south-western side, but it was finally decided to attempt the gate of Tongres.
Over against that point the platforms were accordingly constructed,
and after a heavy cannonade from forty-six great guns, continued for several days, it was thought by the 25th of March, that an impression had been made upon the city. A portion of the brick curtain had crumbled, but through the breach was seen a massive terreplein, well moated, which, after six thousand shots already delivered on the outer wall, still remained uninjured. It was recognised that the gate of Tongres was not the most assailable, but rather the strongest portion of the defences, and Alexander therefore determined to shift his batteries to the gate of Bois-le-Duc. At the same time the attempt upon that of Tongres was to be varied but not abandoned. The Bishop of Liege had furnished four thousand miners, of course well used to subterranean work, and these molish auxiliaries were soon busily engaged with pick and shovel. While a great display was being made above the earth, their hidden workers burrowed towards the Tongres gate, and Parma congratulated himself on a very successful movement. But the besieged had their miners also-peasants who knew full well how to handle pickaxe and mattock. The women no less than the men joined in their labour and did excellent service. There was a whole army of gnomes buried deep in the earth to defend, as well as to attack, the beleaguered city. Sometimes they met in their subterranean work, and then the fight was terrible. The citizens contrived to ascertain the exact position of the Spanish mine, and constructing a dam across it, poured hogsheads of boiling water on their foes and scalded scores to death. They heaped branches and light fagots in the hostile mine, and setting fire to the pile, blew thick volumes of smoke along the passages with organ bellows brought from the churches for that purpose. Many of the besiegers were thus suffocated. But the Spaniards were not easily disheartened. Compelled to abandon the mine they had already constructed, they sank another shaft at a long distance from the Tongres gate, still towards that point, however, burrowing in the darkness, and working without obstruction until they came directly beneath the doomed ravelin. There they excavated a spacious chamber and stored up coffers of gunpowder to an immense extent.
When all was ready, information was conveyed to the Duke of Parma. He had made preparations for the assault, and proceeding to the mouth of the mine ordered that it should be sprung. The explosion was terrific; a part of the tower fell with the concussion, and the moat was choked with heaps of rubbish. The assailants sprang across the passage thus
afforded, and mastered the ruined portion of the post. They were met in the breach, however, by the unflinching defenders of the city, and after a fierce combat of some hours, were forced to retire, retaining possession only of the moat and the dismantled portion of the ravelin. Five days afterwards, says the historian to whom we are indebted for this account, a general assault was ordered. A new mine having been already constructed towards the Tongres ravelin, and a frightful cannonade having been kept up for a fortnight against the Bois-le-Duc gate, it was thought advisable to attack on both points at once. On the 8th of April, accordingly, after uniting in prayer, and listening to a speech from Parma, the great mass of the Spanish army advanced to the breach. The moat had been rendered practicable in many places by the heaps of rubbish with which it had been encumbered, and by the fagots and earth by which it had been filled by the besiegers. The action at the Bois-leDuc gate was exceedingly warm. The tried veterans of Spain, Italy, and Burgundy, were met face to face by the citizens of Maestricht, together with their wives and children. All were armed to the teeth, and fought with what seemed superhuman valour. The women swarmed to the walls and fought in the foremost ranks. They threw buckets of scalding water on the besiegers, hurled firebrands in their faces, quoited blazing pitch hoops with unerring dexterity about their necks. rustics, too, armed with their ponderous flails, worked as cheerfully at this fearful harvesting as if threshing their corn at home.
More than a thousand had fallen at the Bois-le-Duc gate, and still fresh besiegers mounted the breach, only to be beaten back or to add to the mangled heap of the slain. At the Tongres gate, in the meanwhile, the assault had fared no better. A herald had been despatched thither in hot haste to shout at the top of his lungs, "Santiago! Santiago! the Lombards have the gate of Bois-le-Duc!" while the same stratagem was employed to persuade the invaders on the other side of the town that their comrades had forced the Tongres. Animated by this fiction, the soldiers advanced with renewed fury against the ravelin, and were received with a deadly fire; at the same moment a new mine, which was to have been sprung between the ravelin and the gate, but which had been secretly undermined by the townsfolk, exploded with a horrible concussion at a moment least expected by the besiegers. Five hundred of the Spaniards were blown into the air, but none of the defenders were injured. Recovering from the panic, the besiegers again rushed to the attack, and the battle was
fiercely contested; but Maestricht was not to be carried on that occasion. Four thousand Spaniards, horribly mutilated, lay on the ground; but the savage spectacle only still further inflamed the cruel heart of Parma. To the officers who expostulated with him, and besought him to recall the troops, he answered, "Go back to the breach, and tell the soldiers that Alexander is coming to lead them to victory." With these words he rushed forward with a maniac's fury; but all the generals who were near him threw themselves in his path, and besought him to desist, reminding him of how much value his life was to the royal cause.
Alexander reluctantly gave the signal of recall at last, and accepted the defeat. For the future he determined to rely more upon the sapper and miner, and less upon the superiority of veterans to townsmen and rustics in open fight. Sure to carry the city at last, according to line and rule, determined to pass the summer beneath the walls rather than abandon his purpose, he calmly proceeded to complete his circumvallations. A chain of eleven forts upon the left, and five upon the right side of the Maas, the whole connected by a continuous wall, afforded him perfect security against interruptions, and allowed him to continue the siege at leisure. His numerous army was well housed and amply supplied, and he had built a strong and populous city in order to destroy another. Relief was impossible. But a few thousand men were now required to defend Farnese's improvised town, while the bulk of his army could be marched at any moment against an advancing foe. A force of seven thousand, painfully collected by William the Silent, moved towards the place, under command of two distinguished officers-Hohenlo and John of Nassau, but, struck with wonder at what they saw, the leaders recognised the hopelessness of attempting relief. Maestricht was surrounded by a second Maestricht.
The efforts of Prince William were now necessarily directed towards obtaining, if possible, a truce of a few weeks. Parma was too crafty, however, to permit the Spanish authorities to consent, and as he himself disclaimed any power over the direct question of peace and war, the siege proceeded. The gates of Bois-le-Duc and Tongres having thus far resisted the force brought against them, the scene was changed to the gate of Brussels. This adjoined that of Tongres, was farthest from the river, and faced westwardly towards the open country. Here the besieged had constructed an additional ravelin, which they had christened in derision "Parma," and against which the batteries