33. Defeatism in Leiden during the Siege: Johan van der Does warns William of Orange

Jonker Johan van der Does, Lord of Noordwijk and later Governor of Leiden, to William of Orange, Leiden, 7 September 1574.

To His Excellence the Prince

This letter serves to warn your Excellence of the great faithlessness of certain among the magistrates here. Wishing to turn this wretched hardship to their own advantage, they daily attempt to incite the poor and hungry common people to sedition, contrary to the oath they swore to your Excellence and the States, on the basis of empty and false promises contained in letters from the enemy. I am not reporting hearsay for I myself have been a witness on more than one occasion in the presence of the captains and masters of the town.

To gauge the significance of this aright, it would seem that two letters reached Leiden the day before yesterday, that is on 5 September. These had been sent from Leiderdorp. One was written by Baldeus1 and the other by Van Wybisma.2 Both were addressed to the burgomasters and regents of the town of Leiden, who were more under their sway than the captains and officers of the civic militia. And because the enemy had laid down in the same letter a fixed period for us to take counsel, namely until to-day, Monday 7 September, the entire Council of Forty, as well as the captains, masters of the watch and some of the more substantial burghers were summoned that same day, at the instance of some papists, to peruse and examine the same. Pieter Ariensz.3 as the senior burgomaster, then spoke. He discoursed at length about the wretched condition of this town and then about the fine promises made by the enemy, praying them to bear these in mind so that they prudently deliberate and reach a decision, following their conscience and wisdom, which would be most expedient for the town, according to the oath which they had all taken before to the town and His Majesty. He repeated this twice in his discourse, without once mentioning your Excellence’s name.

After which, Jacob van der Does, being first asked, replied that they should first take note of the condition of those who had written the letters. Though Mathenesse was a true nobleman, it was common knowledge that he had previously dishonoured his reputation and his oath with Van Vliet’s daughter at Haarlem.4 As for Baldeus, the same was a native Spaniard, to wit a sworn and perpetual enemy of these Netherlands, by which we can imagine what sort of pardon we might expect from him. Concerning Mathenesse’s statement about the might of the Spaniards and the other forces surrounding Leiden, these troops certainly could not prevent the town being relieved by his Excellence, for they were scattered far and wide and isolated from one another. As for the matter of the water, that the same could not flow uphill, since Schieland and Delfland were both lower than Rijnland and the town of Leiden, they should consider that as the towns of Gouda, Rotterdam and Schiedam were ports, their knowledge of water levels would be quite as good as that of Mathenesse. Nor was it conceivable that these towns as well as the entire countryside would ever have exposed themselves to the damage, destruction and danger that came with the breaching of the dikes, unless they had been certain in advance of the outcome. He was therefore minded to await the expected relief and, in conformity with his oath, to venture everything, including his life and property, on the town. As for their fine promises of pardon, let them be advised by the men of Naarden, Zutphen, Haarlem and Mechelen, which towns should serve as an example. And even supposing that we could be certain that the promises would be kept, nevertheless we lacked the authority to enter upon such a course, since we were bound by oath to his Excellence and the other towns and we could not disregard it without [their consent].

After which, being asked, I replied that it seemed very strange, indeed scarcely credible, that we who, according to the writer of the letter had so abominably offended against God and the King as to be unworthy of any pardon, should now be even wooed and offered a pardon so generous that no one would be excluded, although we were not seeking any such. Indeed had we not rejected it out of hand by our great obstinacy, notwithstanding promises of greater freedoms and privileges, then we had ever enjoyed before? In all this one thing displeased me greatly, that is that they contradict what they themselves have said. In each of their previous pardons, they have expressly stated that this was the very last and that we could not expect another pardon. Yet notwithstanding this, they have attached so many letters of pardon to those which have lapsed, and still they continue to pardon us daily; indeed, they will generously grant us another twenty-five pardons, if they once notice that we are inclined to accept them as such. It is clear that the pardon is only a deceitful lure, a piece of glib villainy to trap us in the net. I do not therefore believe that we can follow such a course, without being publicly reviled as perjurers and traitors to our country. We should never again be able to raise our head without a sense of shame. I concurred furthermore with the opinion of Jacob van der Does, in particular concerning Mathenesse. Just as he had availed himself in the past of the Council of Trent regarding his clandestine marriage, it was now to be feared that he would resort to the Council of Constance against us.5 This was also the view of the young lord of Warmond and the baljuw of Rijnland.

Then the burgomasters, schepenen and the members of the vroedschap spoke. Most of them asserted that necessity breaks an oath and they were therefore no longer bound by it, seeing that the siege had not been raised by the appointed time. Indeed for that reason they [the States of Holland] could be justly considered as having broken their word, because they had not hastened, as they had promised, to bring relief. They had left us without comfort or prospect of anything better, as they had done in the previous winter during the first siege. Some others wanted to write to Baldeus and Mathenesse, saying that one could not have too many friends and asking for a safe-conduct for three of four persons to go to his Excellence to pray that they might he discharged from their oath. Then they might do what they supposedly had no desire to do. The rest could see no objection since they would always remain under the King. Finally the same was resolved, notwithstanding that I, with the captains and masters of the watch, openly protested, demanding an act to the effect that the same had been carried through contrary to our will, although we had been outvoted. This letter which we may suppose was despatched posthaste to Utrecht, prompted the lord of Lannoy6 to send next day a mounted trumpeter via Haarlem bearing two letters, one of which was signed by himself and the other by fifteen glippers7 As a result the Council of the Forty was summoned again on 7 September. Since the commissioner [i.e. the governor Dirk van Bronckhorst] had died during the night, Jacob van der Does was invited to accept the same office. But he refused, saying he would only be prepared to do so, if he were charged by his Excellence, and not otherwise, on account of the dissension in our ranks. Nevertheless he was eventually persuaded to come to the Town Hall each day and to assist and advise the magistrates. After this the letters from Lannoy and the glippers were presented. A vote was taken on the motion that we should not reject the pardon, which had been offered, since it might come to such a pass. But some of those present, considering our wretched plight and the small prospect of relief, accused the Prince of lying in his letters. But when Jan van Hout8 said that everyone must sign his decision individually, lest there be any mistake in recording the different votes, the majority agreed that a letter should be sent at once to his Excellence and on the following day a reply be sent to Lannoy and the glippers to the same effect as had already been written to Baldeus, regarding the safe-conduct for three of four persons. Halfleiden9 dropped his original proposal and endorsed this decision.

Then I delivered my advice, to wit, that this same proposal in effect signalled the start of negotiations with the enemy and discussions about the surrender [of the town]. As such it was contrary not only to our oath but also the edicts of his Excellence and also against his various letters, in which he had earnestly exhorted us not to heed the communications of the enemy, still less to write asking them for anything. In my opinion we could not proceed to such a step, without first having heard the opinion of the officers and rotmeesters [corporals] of the schutterijen. Granted that we were permitted to break our oath and the edicts of the prince, it remained to be seen whether this would find favour with the schutterijen, who were quite as much concerned as we were, especially those among them who had first brought the town under the obedience of his Excellence, an act in which the majority of the magistrates present had been little involved. It was therefore advisable to write to his Excellence, not to the enemy, whereupon Halfleiden replied that we were not sitting there in order to catch one another out with edicts; each should express his opinion freely and that this proposal had been made with good intentions in order to keep the enemy longer in suspense. He regretted that anyone should swear by a tooth or a finger and he promised that, if it came about that we must come to terms with the enemy, we should in such a case all enjoy the same pardon as they did. Whereupon I replied that we would far rather be in the enemy’s disgrace than in his grace, which he did not seek. For a second time I protested about this proposal and I demanded an act as before, but this was refused on the grounds that this was no way to behave.

Moreover Pieter Adriaensz. [van der Werff] declared that he would certainly be able to answer to his Excellence for the same. He also wanted to send his Excellence copies of the two letters addressed ‘To the glippers of Leiden’, stamped on the outside with the great seal of the town. He was also certain that the same would find favour with his Excellence. I pleaded that at least these should not be sent with the subscription, ‘by order and ordinance of the magistrates, captains, masters of the watch as well as the rijkdom 10 of the town of Leiden’, as had been done in the case of the earlier letters to Baldeus, notwithstanding that none of us had given our consent. Then I asked (seeing it was not possible to do otherwise on this occasion) that they should at least delay the aforesaid letters for a day or two, since we expected in the meantime to obtain an answer from his Excellence, after which we should know how to proceed. This was too rejected. On 7 September Pieter Adriaensz. asked Jacob van der Does to assist him, since, as he frankly said, his colleagues and the magistrates alleged that he always governed on his own and [since] without him, the agreement with the enemy would have been reached long ago, referring here to the entire college [i.e. Council of Forty].

Source: L.G. V(isscher), `Over de belegering van Leiden en het kapiteinschap van Johan van der Does, 1574′, Kronijk van het Historisch Genootschap ii (1846) 151-58. See also J.J. Orlers, Beschrijvinge der stede Leyden (Leiden, 1641) 495-506; R.Fruin, `Het beleg en ontzet der stad Leiden in 1874′, Verspreide geschriften , II, 427-35, trans. by Elizabeth Trevelyan as The Siege and Relief of Leyden, 1574 (The Hague, 1927).

1 Francisco de Valdes, a captain in Spanish army, directed the siege of Leiden.
2 Johan van Mathenesse van Wisbima, a member of the Ridderschap, and a noted loyalist.
3 Pieter Adriaensz. van der Werff (1529-1604) had been banished for his part in the Troubles of 1566-67. He returned in 1572 (see document 24) by which time he enjoyed the trust of Orange.
4 Possibly Jhr. Jan van Woerden, burgomaster at Haarlem, 1571-72.
5 The Czech reformer, Jan Hus, was burnt at Constance in 1415 despite having been granted safe conduct to the Council. It was commonly alleged that one did not have to keep one’s word to heretics, which opinion made negotiations much more difficult.
6 In January 1574 Requesens appointed Ferdinand de Lannoy, count de la Roche, to be stadhouder of Holland in place of Boussu, who had fallen into the hands of the rebels.
7 Loyalists and Catholics who left the Holland towns, which had ‘defected’ to Orange in 1572 to take refuge in Amsterdam and Utrecht, then still in the hands of the government. The rebels nicknamed such people glippers (fugitives or ‘bolters’), from glippen meaning ontsnappen ie to escape.
8 The town secretary and a strong supporter of Orange.
9 The burgomaster Jan Jansz. van Baersdorp had no liking for the strict Calvinists. Though he attended the services of the Reformed Church, he was alleged to have remarked that if his heart were cut open, one would find a double Catholic.
10 The rijkdom was the collective name given to the most experienced and substantial burghers, who made up the vroedschap or town corporation.