October 2, 2012
For whoever may doubt the mindset and intent of European nobility and the influence she continues to wield in world affairs, it may be necessary to give a short summing up of the most notorious crimes perpetrated by one of those elite families. The tale I am about to disseminate is illustrative for the way freedom, a fragile gem, will be snatched away from the hands of nation-states if its inhabitants discontinue their vigilance.
Rise of the Republic
We descend down into the 16th century. Both as a refuge for political thinkers and a base for liberty, the Republic of the Seven United Provinces seemed to be born under an unlikely yet favourable star sign. In clear defiance of the Holy Roman Empire, Holland worked to free itself from the bonds of slavery it had moaned under for the previous centuries. More or less incapable to do anything about it, the surrounding tyrants looked on as the Low Countries one day proclaimed sovereignty. As would be expected they thought it a deeply disturbing development, not to be tolerated lest other nations follow its shining example. Even more outrageous was the young Republic’s inclination toward recognising basic human liberties and restricting the ancient influence of feudal lords. It was ironical in retrospect that an Orange, William the Silent, turned out being the one realising the independence on which the fragile Republic was beginning to flourish. As the first and only member of that accursed house to actually propagate liberty instead of tyranny, William began an open rebellion against the reigning Philip II and his handlers in Madrid. But any determined young blueblood could have managed to engage the Holy Roman Empire in 1568, which was already in a state of increasing decay. By the time Holland proclaimed to submit to the Spanish throne no more, Tyranny was rampant all across the continent: France was impatiently waiting in the wings, eying supreme power over the Low Countries since Spain had fallen victim to internal dissension. And then there was England breathing down the neck of the young Republic. No longer a vassal of external empires- with the memory of tyranny still freshly imprinted on the Dutch psyche- the Republic aspired not only to resist the chokehold of their former masters, but to build a strong national defence to fight off any of the bloodhounds lurking in the background. A powerful army was created to fight off foes on land, as well as a well-equipped fleet developed for those on sea. Last but not least there was a Jeffersonian-style urban militia forced into being to be assembled in a hurry in case a domestic enemy rose to the surface to threaten the Republic from within. But all this newly acquired liberty did not go down well with the Teutonic royals in the Prussian hinterland. They picked a 16th century Sirhan Sirhan to do their bidding and had the guards look away at just the right moment. After finishing his supper, William of Orange came around the corner; a small demonic looking character stepped up and fired two salvos in his chest. As he collapsed to the floor William was heard to remark: ‘My God, have pity on my soul; my God, have pity on this poor People.’
Liberty under Attack
The son of William, Maurits of Orange-Nassau, was made of an altogether different material. After the assassination, he took over the reigns and before you can say ‘knife-in-the-back’ dramatically reversed his father’s policies on just about everything. First order of business was a swift getting rid of the urban militia, who were already sprouting up all over the dew-covered Republic and constituted a serious threat to any ambitions the German house of Orange-Nassau might have. Well aware of these ambitions, a former legal counsellor to William of Orange, tried to keep the young prince in check.
At the dawn of the 17th century, the Republic flourished as never before. One of the patriots responsible for the unprecedented rise in prosperity was John of Oldenbarneveldt. Not of royal descent himself, Oldenbarneveldt acquired great power in the young Republic regardless. As one of the key players in the Rebellion, and chief counsellor to the slain William, he had managed to convince a surprising amount of surrounding countries to recognise the Republic’s sovereignty. But he realised that Maurits, other than his father, was not satisfied with merely a military function. John had observed all the earmarks of a tyrant in the young man, which contrasted sharply with his father’s renowned humility. John’s suspicions proved to be tragically correct. It became apparent that the German prince looked for a reason, any reason, to put his house in the driver’s seat of the Republic. He wouldn’t have to wait long.
The existing religious turmoil between two dominant sects of Protestants delivered the perfect pretext to ignite a civil war. As usual a religious quarrel was used by the very secular German elite to create a conflict after which they would present the perfect solution, namely to reinstate the house of Orange-Nassau firmly on Dutch territory. Anticipating a possible coup by the prince of Orange, Oldenbarneveldt pre-empted the royal plans in 1617 by expanding the urban militias in Holland – for he understood well that the best remedy for an emerging tyrant is a well-armed citizenry. Eager to turn the newfound Republic into a tyrannical monarchy with the house of Orange-Nassau installed as supreme ruler, Maurits had to get rid of this man who dared to stand between him and the stated goal of his house. And so it was that one rainy morning in august of the year 1618, several men showed up at the residence of John of Oldenbarneveldt. They took him and slapped him with the charge of high treason, after which he was clapped in chains and thrown into prison. How cynical that the one actually perpetrating the high treason was the German prince propping up the bogus charge.
At dawn on a beautiful spring day the following year, John was presented before a mass of spectators who were eagerly awaiting the execution. Before the sentence was to be carried out, John of Oldenbarneveldt uttered his famous last words: ‘Men, do not believe I am a traitor to this country. I have acted just and pious, like a good patriot, and as such will I die.’ Then he turned toward the hooded henchman and whispered: ‘Make it short, make it short!’
After the execution, many were appalled about the murder of their beloved statesman. Holland’s most prominent artists rose up in protest. No fan of the German rulers, the painter Rembrandt alluded to the beheading of Oldenbarneveldt in a biblical pictorial, comparing the execution to the brutal stoning of Saint Stephen. Vondel, the bard from Amsterdam, lamented the beheaded while condemning the one doing the beheading. When the play was first performed, Maurits had just expired at the age of 48. His half-brother Frederick Hendrick of Orange had taken his place and took revenge on the playwright in his family’s name by ruining him financially. Although he obviously didn’t appreciate the grim satire, he realising he could use a good propagandist for his cause. It wasn’t long before Vondel to his horror found himself writing panegyrics for the very family he had accused not long before.
Meanwhile dark clouds gathered on the Republic. The more influence successive Oranges acquired in the Republic over the course of the 17th century, the more its decay became apparent. The unspoken ideals once held dear were discarded like some old rag. It was only a question of time before England and France were going to smell blood. And that was precisely what the Oranges had in mind, for their house was seeking a blood covenant with the English. There were still a few good men however trying to drive the iron stench of blood out of the Republic and restore the sweet smell of liberty.
The Tale of Two Brothers
The brightest stars on the firmament of the ailing Republic were the brothers Johan and Cornelis de Witt. Working in the spirit of their beheaded predecessor, they worked to save the Dutch from both an outside invasion from England, and inside subverting by German royalty. Not an easy task, as England had already assembled its fleet close to shore and the house of Orange had begun secret negotiations with the British Isles. One of the brothers, Johan de Witt, had also opened a line of communication with the British in which they toasted to each others sovereign status and added an ‘act of seclusion’. This effectively removed the age-old title of stadtholder from the Oranges, degrading them to just one out of many royal bloodlines sneaking about. The latest member of the family, still a child when the act was enforced, grew up to be infinitely ambitious and dead set on regaining his family’s former title. After using the royalist army to place the brothers under arrest (again after some false charge of high treason), the young prince arranged a scene the likes of which the Dutch had never seen. When Johan came to visit his brother in his cell a roused up crowd assembled before the prison walls demanding justice be done onto the ‘traitors’ Johan and Cornelis de Witt. The cavalry in charge with the defence of the prisoners then removed itself from the scene on a rumour that looting farmers were afoot some miles to the north. The crowd then dragged the brothers out of the safety of their cell and began a sinister lynching feast. Johan de Witt was shot in the neck, while his brother was beaten to death by the angry horde. The worst was yet to come. After confirming that both brothers were dead, they hung their body’s upside-down on a pole and ripped their limbs from their bodies. Some were even reported to having indulged themselves on their flesh.
Although fully orchestrated by prince William of Orange, later historians have tried to shift the blame away from his royal highness (later to become king of England) by stating it was all just an unfortunate escalation of violence. These historians conveniently forget that the perpetrators were generously rewarded by the prince- even though the nation screamed bloody murder and demanded that the murderers be punished for their crime.
In the case of John of Oldenbarneveldt and the brothers De Witt, the words of Thomas Jefferson ring very true, when he proclaimed that ‘every so often the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants’. It is a sad but undeniable fact that it has usually been the blood of patriots with which the tree of liberty has been watered.
A Trail of Blood
Jumping up at us from the pages of the historical record (thank God for the historical record) is a disturbing palette: beheadings, gruesome torture sessions, unbridled eugenics and the ripping apart of honourable men. The situation is emphatically not unique to the Netherlands. Every single European superpower had its own private family dealing out the cards, whether it is the Oranges in Holland or the Bourbons in France. Out of the ruins of history a pattern emerges: royals covertly overthrow sovereign nations by accumulating power- while they themselves pose as the stabilising element in which to put your trust. Always avoiding open confrontations, they seek to subdue nations quietly from within by assassinating its genuine statesmen and rob its natural resources. It has proven an extraordinary old and successful formula which has now been projected on a global scale.