Don John Unmasks the Prince of Orange

July 5, 2018

Don Juan of Austria, the supreme commander of the Holy League against the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto. Painting by Sánchez Coello , Alonso

There was so much brave daring in D. John’s act of entering alone a country, for the most part rebel and not a little heretical, his Spanish troops already dismissed, and without other guards than the Duke of Arschot’s Flemings, that the Prince of Orange and his followers were amazed and understood that nothing would stop D. John if he were not deprived of life or liberty. They determined, therefore, to effect one or the other, and the numerous agents of Orange, helped by those of the Queen of England, went about the country spreading clever calumnies against him, to prepare the way, maliciously interpreting all his acts and gradually making him and his government hated.

Portrait of William I, the Silent, Prince of Orange.

Faithful to the policy of peace which had been enjoined on him, D. John wished to confer with Orange, and sent the Duke of Arschot to tell him that the Provinces of Holland and Zeeland were the only two which had not signed the “Perpetual Edict,” and as they were under his command D. John confided this task to him. Orange then threw off that mask, which had gained for him the surname of “Silent,” and with which he had covered his ambitions and mischievous designs, and answered Arschot that Holland and Zeeland would never sign the “Perpetual Edict,” as both these provinces were Calvinistic and neither would promise to keep the Roman faith, and taking off his hat and showing his bald head, he said to the Duke, with a smile, “You see my head is bald (calva)! Then know that it is not more so than my heart.” This play upon words signified that the traitor meant he was also a Calvinist, and his apostasy being now known, all hopes of agreement were at an end.

William of Orange’s entry into Brussels, 1577.

In truth, Orange continued his infamous war of calumnies and perfidious intrigues against D. John even more openly from this time, and with the greatest effrontery as also all that he had hitherto done in secret to the Catholic Church in the provinces of Holland and Zeeland: persecuting the clergy, expelling monks and nuns, destroying temples and altars, melting bells to make cannon, confiscating ecclesiastical revenues for his own purse or those of his partisans, and from the pulpits of Catholic churches making heretic ministers preach the doctrines of Calvin. At such impious insolence D. John proposed to the States to join their troops with those of the King, and make war on Orange and seize the provinces he had usurped; but the States put off his proposal with such shallow excuses that D. John could easily see that mutual and secret confidence existed between them and Orange.

Painting of Namur by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield.

Meanwhile, in Brussels, the want of confidence and even the hatred which the agents and partisans of Orange the Silent had sown against the Austrian, grew more and more. These men became so barefaced that they wore special caps and medals with allusive letters, and the authorities and deputies became so arrogant that they ordered D. John to be called the Magistrate of Brussels, as if he were what we should now call the Mayor. He answered that they must come and see him, because it was not usual for the Magistrate to hear anyone outside the Hôtel de Ville.

Rev. Fr. Luis Coloma, The Story of Don John of Austria, trans. Lady Moreton, (New York: John Lane Company, 1912), Book IV, Ch. XVI, pp. 376-381.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 633



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