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Low Countries (2)
Prof. Nelson's on the Earl of Oxford in the Low Countries and Oxford in a Falstaffian Garb
Some dates for orientation:
- Siege of Haarlem 11 December 1572 to 12 July 1573
- Siege of Alkmaar 23 August 1573 to 8 October 1573
- Siege of Leiden - April 1574 to 3 October 1574
- Siege of Bommel (Zaltbommel) : June 1754 to October 1574
Oxford was in the Low Countries from about mid July 1574; he was back in England before the end of July 1574.
Mook is about 30 miles west of Bommel. The battle of Mook took place on 14 July 1574. Mercenary troops recruited by Louis and Henry Nassau in Germany tried to cross the river Meuse.
Nelson's stupendous errors are highlighted.
In his chapter 22 ("Flight", pp.108-116) Nelson writes: "Oxford would later boast that he had taken part in the battle of Bommel, known to historians as the battle of Mook and dated 14 April 1574. Protestant troops under Count Louis of Nassau were routed by the combined forces of three Spanish generals. Though Ward (p. 98) imagines that Oxford may have gone to have a look, he missed the battle by some three months. Conceivably Oxford witnessed the siege of Leiden, which lasted from June to October 1574."
It should first be noted that either Nelson cannot read or is cheating. What Ward wrote is: " Bommel [Zaltbommel] was a place of great strategical importance, forming an outpost in the defence of Flanders. From June till October 1574 a Spanish force under Hierges laid siege to it, but it was successfully defended by Van Haeften, who eventually forced the enemy to raise the siege by cutting the dykes. Lord Oxford, as we have seen, was deeply interested in all military matters, and he must have visited the Spanish lines outside Bommel in July." (p. 98). Ward does not suggest that Oxford visited the battlefield of Mook, well knowing that Bommel and Mook are situated at a distance of about 30 miles!!! Ward suggests that Oxford might have visited the camp of the besiegers of Bommel. In fact, there never was a battle at Bommel. After the two desastrous sieges of Haarlem and then Alkmaar in 1573 the Spaniards had changed their tactic. "No longer sieges after the old system with cannonades and assaults, but encircling of the towns through occupation of the surrounding terrain with a number of entrenchments in order to overcome the rebels by starvation or perhaps to surprise them in a dark winter night by an assault on the ice." (Blok, Pieter J. Geschiedenis der Nederlanden, Vol. III, Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1907, p. 169). The latter option was not available in July 1574. Like at Leiden, the most famous siege of the year 1574, the Dutch countered this new tactic by piercing the dykes, so flooding the besiegers and forcing them to retreat. At the siege of Leiden there was a short sally by the besieged but that was all. Neither at Leiden nor at Bommel was there a battle. How and why, then, did Nelson come to his fictitious battle of which he has Oxford boasting, adding that this battle of which Oxford boasted was the battle at which Oxford could not have been present and which the historians called "the battle of Mook"? It was Ward who suggested that he might have visited the Spanish camp around Bommel where, it ought to be stressed, a battle never took place.
What is the reason of Nelson's confusion? In 1580 Charles Arundel, from whom Nelson borrowed the title of his biography of Oxford, "Monstrous Adversary", reports:
"At his [Oxford's] being in Flanders, the Duke of Alva will constantly affirm, grew so much to affect him for the several parts he saw in him, as he made him his Lieutenant General over all the army then in the Low Countries, and employed him further in a notable piece of service, where according to his place he commanded and directed the Ambassador of Spain that is now here [Mendoza] , Mondragon, Santio [Sancho] d'Avila, and the rest of the captains; but these who I have named, as he will say of all others, were most glad to be commanded by him. And so valiantly he behaved himself as he gained great love of all the soldiers, and in less admiration of his valour of all sorts." (Ward, p. 99)
COMMENT: As Ward justly remarks the Duke of Alva had left the Low Countries in December 1573. There were not just three Spanish generals at Mook Heath, as Nelson has it, there were also Valdes, Hierges, Chevreaux. Oxford might have named many more as one should conclude from Arundel's statement: "but these who I have named, as he will say of all other...". Nelson could have concluded with Ward that Oxford "took great delight in after years recounting this adventure, and, when flushed with wine, allowed his imagination to run riot in the most fantastic, but nevertheless amusing way." (Ward, pp. 98-9). In other words, that Oxford took delight in playing Falstaff. But Nelson, fiercely resolved on finding some battle of which he could accuse Oxford of lying and boasting, makes himself a fool. Arundel further:
"And in this journey he passed many straits and divers bridges kept by the enemy, which he let them from with the loss of many a man's life. But still he forced them to retire, till at the last he approached the place that he went to besiege; and using no delay the cannon was planted and the battery continued the space of ten days, by which time he had made such a breach as by a general consent of all his captains he gave an assault, and to encourage his soldiers this valiant prince led them thereto, and through the force of his murdering arm many were sore wounded, but more killed."
COMMENT: It is clear that Oxford was mixing up elements which could be applied to the battle of Mook (see an extract from Motley in Appendix 3) : the names of the generals, laying bridges over a river (as happened near Mook), and to the siege of Bommel. But it is also perfectly clear that Oxford wa not referring to a specific but to a surrealistic battle of his own invention. This should at last have been clear to Nelson where Arundel told how Generalissimo Oxford told he was called home:
"Notwithstanding being not well followed by the reiters and others, he was repulsed, but determining to give a fresh and general assault the next day Master Beningefeld [Thomas Bedingfield], as the devil would have it, [see appendix 1] came in upon his swift post-horse, and called him from this service by Her Majesty's letters, being the greatest disgrace that any such general received."
COMMENT: Even at this juncture, where master Bedingfield orders the great general home, at which even Arundel himself could no longer stay serious: "which hathe made such sport as often have I bin driven to rise from his table laugheinge", Nelson remains serious and "scientific". The story goes on:
"And now the question is whether this noble general were more troubled with his calling home, or Bedingefeld more moved with pity and compassion to behold this slaughter, or his horse more afeared when he passed the bridges at the sight of the dead bodies - whereat he started and flung in such sort as Beningefeld could hardly keep his back." (p. 100)
COMMENT: The dénouement savours of the euphuistic narrative style (see appendix 2) and of Falstaff. We may call Harold Bloom to witness. Not only in Hamlet, says Bloom, did Shakespeare portray himself, but in Falstaff too. Here, in Arundel's witness, we see Oxford in a Falstaffian garb.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF ALAN NELSON'S RISIBLE CONFUSION?
The cause of Nelson's risible confusion isthat he is obsessed with representing the Earl of Oxford a brainless braggart and liar and thereby losses himself the control of his own brain. He cannot admit that Oxford was simply making fun. As said, Oxford was mixing elements of a siege (the siege of Bommel or Zaltbommel) and a battle (the battle of Mook Heath).
Arundel had reported: "That but for the coming of Bedingfield and the Duke of Alva's persuasion rather to omit the service and to forsake his country he had surprised Bommel."(Nelson, p. 205) Nelson confuses the siege of Bommel (where there was no battle) and the battle of Mook Heath (where there was no siege): "Oxford would later boast that he had taken part in the battle of Bommel known to historians as the battle of Mook and dated 14 April 1574." The curious turn "dated 14 April 1574" reveals Nelson's incertainty. Would one say that the "Battle of Gettysburg is dated 1-3 July 1863? 1-3 Juy is the date of the battle of Gettysburg, the date of the battle of Mook is 14 April 1574.
But the confusion does not end there. In a remarkable endnote to "Bommel" Nelson adds: "Either Bommel, or Bouwel 15 miles E.S.E. of Antwerp, and separated from it by four rivers." (p. 466). At first sight this may seems a piece of meticulous research. In fact, it turns out to be a piece of gross foolery, because:
- The four rivers to which Nelson points are small rivers, absolutely inappropirate for a sea battle and without necessity of bridges to cross them.
- Why should the Spaniards besiege Bouwel, an insignificant place that then had perhaps less than 300 inhabitants and, above all, was unfortified?
- And why should the Spaniards lay siege to such an insignificant unfortified place situated in that part of the Low Countries which they were in control of?
Oxford was talking like Falstaff and like Falstaff was imitating Euphuism in a comic way.
A few examples of euphuistic style:
"... though the Cammocke the more it is bowed the better it serveth, yet the bow the more it is bent and occupied, the weaker it waxeth, though the Camomill, the more it is trodden and pressed down, the more it spreadeth, yet the violet the oftner it is handled and touched, the sooner it withereth and decayeth."
" Harry, I do not only marvel where thou spendest thy time, but also how thou art accompanied. For though the camomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, yet youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears." (1, H4, II.iv.).
"Marry, then, sweet wag, when thou art king, let not us that are squires of the night's body be called thieves of the day's beauty. Let us be Diana's Foresters, Gentlemen of the Shade, Minions of the Moon; and let men say we be men of good government, being governed as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal." (1 H4, I.ii).
" For the box of the ear that the Prince gave you- he gave it like a rude prince, and you took it like a sensible lord." (2 H4, I.ii).
Two examples, one taken from Lyly (Euphues or the Anatomy of Wit), the other from Robert Greene (Menaphon- Camillas Alarum to slumbering Euphues, in his melancholie cell ).
"Euphues having sojourned by the space of two months in Naples, whether he were moved by the courtesie of a young gentleman named Philautus, or enforced by destiny: whether his pregnant wit, or his pleasant conceits wrought the greater liking in the minde of Euphues I know not for certainty..."
GREENE: "Samela was so desirous to end her life with her friend, that she would not reveal either unto Democles or Melicertus what she was; and Melicertus rather chose to die with his Samela, then once to name himself Maximius."
But OXFORD adds something (see below) The comic effect becomes perhaps clearer if we add a similar phrase to Greene's sentence: "Samela was so desirous to end her life with her friend, that she would not reveal either unto Democles or Melicertus what she was; and Melicertus rather chose to die with his Samela, then once to name himself Maximius. AND THE BELL-WETHER OF THEIR FLOCK SHOOK HIS NECK MEANING THAT RATHER HE WOULD LEAD ALL THE SHEEP TO THE SLAUGHTER HOUSE THAN TO LEAVE HIS MASTERS." The proposition in capitals is of course not Greene's. But it is similar to what Oxford adds in his tale. And to what Falstaff add is his tale.
1 Henry IV, II.iv.186-226
Oxford's tale, from B.M. Ward, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford 1550-1604, London, 1928, p. 98.
Prince. Pray God you have not murd'red some of them.
Fal. Nay, that's past praying for. I have pepper'd two of them. Two I am sure I have paid, two rogues in buckram suits. I tell thee what, Hal- if I tell thee a lie, spit in my face, call me horse. Thou knowest my old ward. Here I lay, and thus I bore my point. Four rogues in buckram let drive at me.
Prince. What, four? Thou saidst but two even now.
Fal. Four, Hal. I told thee four.
Poins. Ay, ay, he said four.
Fal. These four came all afront and mainly thrust at me. I made me no more ado but took all their seven points in my target, thus.
Prince. Seven? Why, there were but four even now.
Fal. In buckram?
Poins. Ay, four, in buckram suits.
Fal. Seven, by these hilts, or I am a villain else
Prince. [aside to Poins] Prithee let him alone. We shall have more anon.
Fal. Dost thou hear me, Hal?
Prince. Ay, and mark thee too, Jack.
Fal. Do so, for it is worth the list'ning to. These nine in buckram that I told thee of-
Prince. So, two more already.
Fal. Their points being broken-
Poins. Down fell their hose.
Fal. Began to give me ground; but I followed me close, came in, foot and hand, and with a thought seven of the eleven I paid.
Prince. O monstrous! Eleven buckram men grown out of two!
Fal. But, as the devil would have it, three misbegotten knaves in Kendal green came at my back and let drive at me; for it was so dark, Hal, that thou couldst not see thy hand.
Prince. These lies are like their father that begets them- gross as a mountain, open, palpable. Why, thou clay-brain'd guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch-
Fal. What, art thou mad? art thou mad? Is not the truth the truth?
At his [Oxford's] being in Flanders, the Duke of Alva, as he [Oxford] will constantly affirm, grew so much to affect him for the several parts he saw in him, as he made him his Lieutenant Gneral over all the army then in the Low Countries, and employed him further in a notable piece of service, where according to his place he commanded and directed the Ambassador of Spain that is now here [Mendoza], Mondragon, Santio [Sancho] d'Avila, and the rest of the captains; but these who I have named, as he will say of all others, were most glad to be commanded by him. And so valiantly he behaved himself as he gained great love of all the soldiers, and in less admiration of his valour of all sorts. And in this journey he passed many straits and divers bridges [this rather referring to the Battle of Mook and the crossing of the river Meuse] kept by the enemy, which he let them from [captured from them] with the loss of many a man's life. But still he forced them to retire, till at the last he approached the place that he went to besiege [reference to Bommel] ; and using no delay the cannon was planted and the battery continued the space of ten days, by which time he had made such a breach as by general consent of all his captains he gave an assault, and to encourage his soldiers this valiant prince led them thereto, and through the force of his murdering arm many were sore wounded, but more killed [euphuistic style]. Notwithstanding being not well followed by the reiters [and] others, he was repulsed, but determining to give a fresh and general assault the next day Master Beningefeld [Bedingfield], as the devil would have it, came in upon his swift post-horse, and called him from his service by Her Majesty's letters, being the greatest disgrace that any such general received.
And now the question [pure euphuistic turn] is whether this noble general were more troubled with his calling home, or Beningefeld more moved with pity and compassion to behold this slaughter, or his horse more afeared when he passed the bridges at sight of the dead bodies - whereat he started and flung in such sort as Beningefeld could hardly keep his back.
Extract on the Battle of Mook Heath from John Lothrop Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic 1555-1584.
Louis had profited by the occasion of Anjou's passage into Poland, to acquire for himself two thousand German and French cavalry, who had served to escort that Prince, and who, being now thrown out of employment, were glad to have a job offered them by a general who was thought to be in funds. Another thousand of cavalry and six thousand foot were soon assembled from those ever-swarming nurseries of mercenary warriors, the smaller German states. With these, towards the end of February; Louis crossed the Rhine in a heavy snow-storm, and bent his course towards Maestricht. All the three brothers of the Prince accompanied this little army, besides Duke Christopher, son of the elector Palatine.
Before the end of the month the army reached the Meuse, and encamped within four miles of Maestricht; on the opposite side of the river. The garrison, commanded by Montesdoca, was weak, but the news of the warlike preparations in Germany had preceded the arrival of Count Louis.
Requesens, feeling the gravity of the occasion, had issued orders for an immediate levy of eight thousand cavalry in Germany, with a proportionate number of infantry. At the same time he had directed Don Bernardino de Mendoza, with some companies of cavalry, then stationed in Breda, to throw himself without delay into Maestricht. Don Sancho d'Avila was
entrusted with the general care of resisting the hostile expedition. That general had forthwith collected all the troops which could be spared from every town where they were stationed, had strengthened the cities of Antwerp, Ghent, Nimweben, and Valenciennes, where there were known to be
many secret adherents of Orange; and with the remainder of his forces had put himself in motion, to oppose the entrance of Louis into Brabant, and his junction with his brother in Holland. Braccamonte had been despatched to Leyden, in order instantly to draw off the forces which were besieging the city. Thus Louis had already effected something of importance by the very hews of his approach.
Meantime the Prince of Orange had raised six thousand infantry, whose rendezvous was the Isle of Bommel. He was disappointed at the paucity of the troops which Louis had been able to collect, but he sent messengers immediately to him; with a statement of his own condition, and with directions to join him in the Isle of Bommel, as soon as Maestricht should be reduced. It was, however, not in the destiny of Louis to reduce Maestricht. His expedition had been marked with disaster from the beginning. A dark and threatening prophecy had, even before ist commencement, enwrapped Louis, his brethren, and his little army, in a funeral pall. More than a thousand of his men had deserted before he reached the Meuse. When he encamped, opposite Maestricht, he found the river neither frozen nor open, the ice obstructing the navigation, but being too weak for the weight of an army. While he was thus delayed and embarrassed, Mendoza arrived in the city with reinforcements. It seemed already necessary for Louis to abandon his hopes of Maestricht, but he was at least desirous of crossing the river in that neighbourhood, in order to effect his junction with the Prince at the earliest possible
moment. While the stream was still encumbered with ice, however, the enemy removed all the boats. On, the 3rd of March, Avila arrived with a large body of troops at Maestricht, and on the 18th Mendoza crossed the river in the night, giving the patriots so severe an 'encamisada', that
seven hundred were killed, at the expense of only seven of his own party.
Harassed, but not dispirited by these disasters, Louis broke up his camp on the 21st, and took a position farther down the river, at Fauquemont and Gulpen, castles in the Duchy of Limburg. On the 3rd of April,Braccamonite arrived at Maestricht, with twenty-five companies of Spaniards and three of cavalry, while, on the same day Mondragon reached the scene of action with his sixteen companies of veterans.
It was now obvious to Louis, not only that he should not take Maestricht, but that his eventual junction with his brother was at least doubtful, every soldier who could possibly be spared seeming in motion to oppose his progress. He was, to be sure, not yet outnumbered, but the enemy was increasing, and his own force diminishing daily. Moreover, the Spaniards were highly disciplined and experienced troops; while his own oldiers were mercenaries, already clamorous and insubordinate. On the 8th of April he again shifted his encampment, and took his course along the right bank of the Meuse, between that river and the Rhine, in the direction of Nimwegen. Avila promptly decided to follow him upon the opposite bank of the Meuse, intending to throw himself between Louis and the Prince of Orange, and by a rapid march to give the Count battle,
before he could join his brother. On the 8th of April, at early dawn, Louis had left the neighbourhood of Maestricht, and on the 13th he encamped at the village of Mook near the confines of Cleves. Sending out his scouts, he learned to his vexation, that the enemy had outmarched him, and were now within cannonshot. On the 13th, Avila had constructed a
bridge of boats, over which he had effected the passage of the Meuse with his whole army, so that on the Count's arrival at Mook, he found the enemy facing him, on the same side of the river, and directly in his path. It was, therefore, obvious that, in this narrow space between the Waal and the Meuse, where they were now all assembled, Louis must achieve
a victory, unaided, or abandon his expedition, and leave the Hollanders to despair. He was distressed at the position in which he found himself, for he had hoped to reduce Maestricht, and to join, his brother in Holland. Together, they could, at least, have expelled the Spaniards from that territory, in which case it was probable that a large part of the population in the different provinces would have risen. According to
present aspects, the destiny of the country, for some time to come, was likely to hang upon the issue of a battle which he had not planned, and for which he was not fully prepared. Still he was not the man to be disheartened; nor had he ever possessed the courage to refuse a battle when: offered. Upon this occasion it would be difficult to retreat without disaster and disgrace, but it was equally difficult to achieve a victory. Thrust, as he was, like a wedge into the very heart of a hostile country, he was obliged to force his way through, or to remain in his enemy's power. Moreover, and worst of all, his troops were in a state of mutiny for their wages. While he talked to them of honor, they howled to him for money. It was the custom of these mercenaries to mutiny on the eve of battle--of the Spaniards, after it had been fought. By the one
course, a victory was often lost which might have been achieved; by the other, when won it was rendered fruitless.
Avila had chosen his place of battle with great skill. On the right bank of the Meuse, upon a narrow plain which spread from the river to a chain of hills within cannon-shot on the north, lay the little village of Mook.
The Spanish general knew that his adversary had the superiority in cavalry, and that within this compressed apace it would not be possible to derive much advantage from the circumstance.
On the 14th, both armies were drawn up in battle array at earliest dawn, Louis having strengthened his position by a deep trench, which extended from Mook, where he had stationed ten companies of infantry, which thus rested on the village and the river. Next came the bulk of his infantry, disposed in a single square. On their right was his cavalry, arranged in
four squadrons, as well as the narrow limits of the field would allow. A small portion of them, for want of apace, were stationed on the hill side.
Opposite, the forces of Don Sancho were drawn up in somewhat similar fashion. Twenty-five companies of Spaniards were disposed in four bodies of pikemen and musketeers; their right resting on the river. On their left was the cavalry, disposed by Mendoza in the form of a half moon-the horns garnished by two small bodies of sharpshooters. In the front ranks of the cavalry were the mounted carabineers of Schenk; behind were the Spanish dancers. The village of Mook lay between the two armies.
The skirmishing began at early dawn, with an attack upon the trench, and continued some hours, without bringing on a general engagement. Towards ten o'clock, Count Louis became impatient. All the trumpets of the patriots now rang out a challenge to their adversaries, and the Spaniards were just returning the defiance, and preparing a general onset, when the Seigneur de Hierges and Baron Chevreaux arrived on the field. They brought with them a reinforcement of more than a thousand men, and the intelligence that Valdez was on his way with nearly five thousand more.
As he might be expected on the following morning, a short deliberation was held as to the expediency of deferring the action. Count Louis was at the head of six thousand foot and two thousand cavalry. Avila mustered only four thousand infantry and not quite a thousand horse. This inferiority would be changed on the morrow into an overwhelming
superiority. Meantime, it was well to remember the punishment endured by Aremberg at Heiliger Lee, for not waiting till Meghen's arrival. This prudent counsel was, however, very generally scouted, and by none more loudly than by Hierges and Chevreaux, who had brought the intelligence.
It was thought that at this juncture nothing could be more indiscreet than discretion. They had a wary and audacious general to deal with.
While they were waiting for their reinforcements, he was quite capable of giving them the slip. He might thus effect the passage of the stream and that union with his brother which--had been thus far so successfully prevented. This reasoning prevailed, and the skirmishing at the trench was renewed with redoubled vigour, an additional: force being sent against it. After a short and fierce struggle it was carried, and the
Spaniards rushed into the village, but were soon dislodged by a larger detachment of infantry, which Count Louis sent to the rescue. The battle now became general at this point.
Nearly all the patriot infantry were employed to defend the post; nearly all the Spanish infantry were ordered to assail it. The Spaniards, dropping on their knees, according to custom, said a Paternoster and an Ave Mary, and then rushed, in mass, to the attack. After a short but sharp conflict, the trench was again carried, and the patriots completely routed. Upon this, Count Louis charged with all his cavalry upon the
enemy's horse, which had hitherto remained motionless. With the first shock the mounted arquebusiers of Schenk, constituting the vanguard, were broken, and fled in all directions. So great was their panic, as Louis drove them before him, that they never stopped till they had swum or been
drowned in the river; the survivors carrying the news to Grave and to other cities that the royalists had been completely routed. This was, however, very far from the truth. The patriot cavalry, mostly carabineers, wheeled after the first discharge, and retired to reload their pieces, but before they were ready for another attack, the Spanish lancers and the German black troopers, who had all remained firm, set
upon them with great spirit: A fierce, bloody, and confused action succeeded, in which the patriots were completely overthrown.
Count Louis, finding that the day was lost, and his army cut to pieces, rallied around him a little band of troopers, among whom were his brother, Count Henry, and Duke Christopher, and together they made a final and desperate charge. It was the last that was ever seen of them on earth. They all went down together, in the midst of the fight, and were never heard of more. The battle terminated, as usual in those conflicts
of mutual hatred, in a horrible butchery, hardly any of the patriot army being left to tell the tale of their disaster. At least four thousand were killed, including those who were slain on the field, those who were suffocated in the marshes or the river, and those who were burned in the farm-houses where they had taken refuge. It was uncertain which of those
various modes of death had been the lot of Count Louis, his brother, and his friend. The mystery was never solved. They had, probably, all died on the field; but, stripped of their clothing, with their faces trampled upon by the hoofs of horses, it was not possible to distinguish them from
the less illustrious dead. It was the opinion of, many that they had been drowned in the river; of others, that they had been burned.
© Robert Detobel