EXCERPTS FROM WILLIAM THE SILENT’S “APOLOGY” (1581)

 

[In answer to the charges brought against him the prince of Orange published his famous Apology.  This contains a good account of his life and a brief history of the revolt of the Netherlands, in which he played so important a part: A few passages only can be given here.]

 

What could be more gratifying in this world, especially to one engaged in the great and excellent task of securing liberty for a good people oppressed by evil men, than to be mortally hated by one's enemies, who are at the same time enemies of the fatherland, and by their mouths to receive a sweet testimony to one's fidelity to his people and to his obstinate opposition to tyrants and disturbers of the peace? Such is the pleasure that the Spaniards and their adherents have prepared for me in their anxiety to disturb me. They have but gratified me by that infamous proscription by which they sought to ruin me. Not only do I owe to them this favor, but also the occasion to make generally known the equity and justice of my enterprises....

 

[If in reviewing my life I am forced to praise myself and blame: others] kindly attribute this, gentlemen, to the situation in which my enemies have placed me, and throw the blame upon their impudence and importunity. Remem­ber…that I am falsely accused of being an ingrate, infidel, heretic, and hypocrite, a new Judas and Cain, a disturber of the peace, a rebel, foreigner, enemy of the human race, a public pest of the Christian commonwealth, a traitor and scoundrel ; that I am exposed to be killed like a beast, with a reward for any assassin or poisoner who will undertake the job. It is for you to judge, gentlemen, whether, in order to purge myself from the calumnies heaped upon me, I may not be excused for departing from my usual habits in speaking of myself and others. . . .

 

My enemies object that I have "established liberty of conscience." I confess that the glow of fires in which so many poor Christians have been tormented is not an agreeable sight to me, although it may rejoice the eyes of the duke of Alva and the Spaniards; and that it has been my opinion that persecutions should cease in the Netherlands. I will confess, too, in order that my enemies may know that they have to do with one who speaks out roundly and with-out circumlocution, that when the king was leaving Zealand he commanded me to put to death several worthy persons suspected on account of their religion. I did not wish to do this, and I could not with a clear conscience, so I warned them myself, since one must obey God rather than men. Let the Spaniards say what they please, I know several nations and peoples who are quite their equals who will approve and praise my conduct, for they have learned that nothing is to be accomplished by fire and sword….

 

They denounce me as a hypocrite, which is absurd enough, since I have never resorted to dissimulation. As their friend, I told them quite frankly that they were twist­ing a rope to hang themselves when they began the barbar­ous policy of persecution…. If their unbounded passion and their contempt for me had not prevented their following my advice, they would never have come out where they did. When later I became their opponent and enemy in the inter­est of your freedom, I do not see what hypocrisy they could discover in me, unless they call it hypocrisy to wage open war, take cities, chase them out of the country, and inflict upon them, without disguise, all the harm that the law of war permits. But, gentlemen, if you will reread my " Justification," published thirteen years ago, you will find there the letters of a deceitful and hypocritical king, who thought to deceive me by his false and honeyed words, just as now he would stun me by his threats and the thunder of his denunciations. . . .

 

As for me personally, you see, gentlemen, that it is my head that they are looking for, and that they have vowed my death by offering such a great sum of money. They say that the war can never come to an end so long as I am among you. Might it please God that my perpetual exile, or even my death, should bring you a true deliverance from all the evils and calamities which the Spaniards are prepar­ing for you and which I have so often seen them considering in council and devising in detail! How agreeable to me would be such a banishment! How sweet death itself! [….]

 

Why have I so often endangered my life, what reward shall I expect for my long labors for you, which have extended into old age, and for the loss of my goods, if it be not to obtain and purchase your liberty, even at the cost of my blood if necessary?

 

If, then, gentlemen, you believe that my exile, or even my death, may serve you, I am ready to obey your behests. Here is my head, over which no prince or monarch has authority save you. Dispose of it as you will for the safety and preservation of our commonwealth. But if you judge that such little experience and energy as I have acquired through long and assiduous labors, if you judge that the remainder of my possessions and of my life can be of service to you, I dedicate them to you and to the fatherland.