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BOUT six years after the Spanish Fury Antwerp was again in peril of a similar massacre. The United Provinces had concluded a treaty with the Duke of Anjou. His services, apparently honest in their character, had won for him the good will of the Hollanders, and he even deceived the shrewd intelligence of William the Silent. He had been formally accepted as Duke of Gueldres and Lord of Friesland; had been ceremoniously inaugurated as Count of Flanders; had been received at Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp with royal pomp; but his proud heart chafed at the restraints put upon him. He felt that he was but the servant of the States-General; he aspired to be an absolute ruler, and his religious bigotry was stirred within him at the toleration given to Protestants.
One night he sent for two or three of his intimate friends and consulted with them, after he had retired to rest, as to the best method of asserting his dignity. He declared that the position he then occupied was ignoble to "a Son of France;" that it disgraced him in the eyes of all Christendom; and that he must either retire altogether from the Netherlands, or maintain his authority with a strong hand. This latter alternative was more favoured by himself and friends. It was arranged that possession should be taken on a given day of all the chief cities of Flanders-Antwerp, the duke himself would carry by surprise, resigning it to sack and slaughter; Catholic supremacy re-established and the Netherlands annexed to France.
Finding that his plan was approved, the Duke of Anjou leapt from his bed, and kneeling down, fores wore all the lusts of the flesh, if God Almighty would give him success in the enterprise.
A few days elapsed-busy days for the Frenchmen making ready for their treacherous work. Anjou under pretence of some military strategy concentrated his troops under the walls of Antwerp. But one night a man in a mask appeared in the Antwerp guard house and mysteriously gave warning that a great crime was in contemplation. His accent was French, but he vanished before he could be arrested.
Strange rumours flew about the streets, a vague uneasiness pervaded the whole population. A suspicion of foul play on the part of Anjou induced the magistrates and chief citizens to lay the matter before the Prince of Orange. He accompanied them to the duke's quarters, where Anjou met their suspicion with indignant warmth-"his soul as far from fraud as heaven from earth." Vehement in his protestations of loyalty to the States-General, and of deep affection for Brabant and Antwerp in particular, a city for which he was willing "to shed the last drop of his blood," Anjou succeeded in disarming all suspicion. He readily complied with their request, not to leave the city that day; and took leave of the deputation with every indignation of a man whose honour had been cruelly and unjustly attacked.
The circumstances which followed are thus graphically related by J. L. Motley :
Orange returned with confidence to his own house, which was close to the citadel, and therefore far removed from the proposed point of attack, but he had hardly arrived there when he received a visit from the duke's private secretary, Quinsay, who invited him to accompany his highness
on a visit to the camp. Orange declined the request, and sent an earnest prayer to the duke not to leave the city that morning. The duke dined as usual at noon. While at dinner he received a letter, was observed to turn pale on reading it, and to conceal it hastily in a muff which he wore on his left arm. The repast finished, the duke ordered his horse. The anir al was restive, and so strenuously resisted being mounted, that although it was his usual charger, it was exchanged for another. This second horse started in such a flurry that the duke lost his cloak, and almost his seat. He maintained his self-possession, however, and, placing
himself at the head of his body-guard and some troopers, numbering in all three hundred mounted men, rode out of the palace-yard towards the Kipdorp gate.
This portal opened on the road towards Borgerhout, where his troops were stationed, and at the present day bears the name of that village. It is on the side of the city farthest removed from and exactly opposite the river. The town was very quiet, the streets almost deserted; for it was one o'clock, the universal dinner-hour, and all suspicion had been disarmed by the energetic protestations of the duke. The guard at the gate looked listlessly upon the cavalcade as it approached, but as soon as
Anjou had crossed the first drawbridge, he rose in his stirrups and waved his hand. "There is your city, my lads," said he to the troopers behind him; "go and take possession of it!"
At the same time he set spurs to his horse, and galloped off towards the camp at Borgerhout. Instantly afterwards, a gentleman of his suite, Count Rochepot, affected to have broken his leg through the plunging of his horse, by which he had been violently pressed against the wall as he entered the gate. Kaiser, the commanding officer at the guardhouse, stepped kindly forward to render him assistance, and his reward was a desperate thrust from the Frenchman's rapier. As he wore a steel cuirass, he fortunately escaped with a slight wound.
The expression "broken leg" was the watchword, for at one and the same instant the troopers and guardsmen of Anjou set upon the burgher watch at the gate, and butchered every man. A sufficient force was left to protect the entrance thus easily mastered, while the rest of the Frenchmen entered the town at full gallop, shrieking "Ville gagnée, ville gagnée! vive la messe vive le Duc d'Anjou!" They were followed by their comrades from the camp outside, who now poured into the town at the preconcerted signal; at least six hundred cavalry and three thousand musketeers, all perfectly appointed, entered Antwerp at once. From the Kipdorp gate two main arteries-the streets called the Kipdorp and the Meer-led quite through the heart of the city, towards the Town-house and the river beyond. Along these great thoroughfares the French soldiers advanced at a rapid pace; the cavalry clattering furiously iu the van, shouting, "Ville gagnée, ville gagnée! vive la messe, vive la messe! tue, tue, tue!"
The burghers, coming to door and window to look for the cause of all this disturbance, were saluted with volleys of musketry. They were for a moment astonished, but not appalled, for at first they believed it to be merely an accidental tumult. Observing, however, that the soldiers, meeting with but little effective resistance, were dispersing into dwellings and warehouses, particularly into the shops of the goldsmiths and lapidaries, the citizens remembered the dark suspicions which had been so rife, and many recalled to mind that distinguished French officers had, during the last few days, been carefully examining the treasures of the jewellers, under pretext of purchasing, but, as it now appeared, with intent to rob intelligently.
The burghers, taking this rapid view of their position, flew instantly
to arms. Chains and barricades were stretched across the streets; the trumpets sounded through the city; the municipal guards swarmed to the rescue. An effective rally was made, as usual, at the Bourse, whither a large detachment of the invaders had forced their way. Inhabitants of all classes and conditions, noble and simple, Catholic and Protestant, gave each other the hand, and swore to die at each other's side in defence of the city against the treacherous strangers. The gathering was rapid and enthusiastic. Gentlemen came with lance and cuirass, burghers with musket and bandoleer, artizans with axe, mallet, and other implements of their trade. A bold baker, standing by his oven—stark naked, according to the custom of bakers at that day-rushed to the street as the sound of the tumult reached his ear. With his heavy bread shovel, which he held in his hand, he dealt a French cavalry officer, just riding and screaming by, such a hearty blow that he fell dead from his horse. The baker seized the officer's sword, sprang, all unattired as he was, upon his steed, and careered furiously through the streets, encouraging his countrymen everywhere to the attack, and dealing dismay through the ranks of the enemy. His services in that eventful hour were so signal that he was publicly thanked afterwards by the magistrates for his services, and rewarded with a pension of three hundred florins for life.
The invaders had been forced from the Bourse, while another portion of them had penetrated as far as the Market-place. The resistance which they encountered became every instant more formidable, and Fervacques, a leading French officer, who was captured on the occasion, acknowledged that no regular troops could have fought more bravely than did these stalwart burghers. Women and children mounted to roof and window, whence they hurled, not only tiles and chimney-pots, but tables, ponderous chairs, and other bulky articles, upon the heads of the assailants, while such citizens as had used all their bullets loaded their pieces with the silver buttons from their doublets, or twisted gold and silver coins with their teeth into ammunition. With a population so resolute, the four thousand invaders, however audacious, soon found themselves swallowed up. The city had closed over them like water, and within an hour nearly a third of their whole number had been slain. Very few of the burghers had perished, and fresh numbers were constantly advancing to the attack. The Frenchmen, blinded, staggering, beaten, attempted to retreat. Many threw themselves from the fortifications into the moat.