The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 58

The leaves were yellowing on the trees and the autumn wind was beginning to blow. Katheline sometimes had her reason for an hour or two or three. And Claes then said that the spirit of God had visited her in His great compassion. At these moments she had power by passes and by words to cast a spell upon Nele, who saw more than a hundred leagues away all that happened in city places, in the streets, or within the houses.

On this day then, Katheline, being in her wits, was eating olie koekjes well washed down with dobbel-cuyt in company with Claes, Soetkin, and Nele.

Said Claes:

“To-day is the day of the abdication of His Sacred Majesty the Emperor Charles the Fifth. Nele, my dear, could you see as far as Brussels in Brabant?”

“I could, if Katheline is willing,” answered Nele.

Then Katheline made the girl sit upon a bench, and by her words and passes, acting like a spell, Nele sank down all deep in slumber.

Katheline said to her:

“Go into the little house in the Park, which is the favourite abode of the Emperor Charles the Fifth.”

“I am,” said Nele, speaking low and as though she was being stifled, “I am in a little chamber painted green with oil colours. There there is a man bordering upon four and fifty years, bald and gray, with a fair beard on a jutting chin, with an evil look in his gray eyes, full of cunning, of cruelty, and feigned good nature. And this man he is called Sacred Majesty. He is in catarrh and coughs sorely. Beside him is another, young, with an ugly mask like an ape hydrocephalous; that one I saw at Antwerp, it is King Philip. His Sacred Majesty at this moment is reproaching him for having slept abroad last night; doubtless, he saith, to go and find some vile creature in a filthy den in the low quarters of the city. He says his hair stinks of the tavern, which is no pleasure for a king that hath only to choose sweet bodies, skins of satin refreshed in baths of perfumes, and hands of great ladies amorous, which is far better, saith he, than a wild sow, come hardly washed from the arms of a drunken trooper. There is, saith he, never a maiden, wife, or widow who would resist him, among the most noble and beauteous, that illumine their loves with perfumed tapers, not by the greasy glimmer of stinking tallow-dips.

“The king replied that he will obey His Sacred Majesty in all things.

“Then His Sacred Majesty coughs and drinks some mouthfuls of hypocras.

“‘You will presently,’ says he, addressing Philip, ‘see the States General, prelates, nobles, and burgesses: Orange the Silent, Egmont the Vain, de Hornes the Unpopular, Brederode the Lion; and also all those of the Fleece of Gold of whom I make you sovereign. You will see there a hundred wearers of baubles, who would all cut their noses off to have the privilege of hanging them from a gold chain on their breasts, in token of higher nobility.’

“Then, changing his tone and full of sadness, His Sacred Majesty saith to King Philip:

“‘Thou knowest, my son, that I am about to abdicate in thy favour, to give the world a great spectacle and to speak in front of a huge crowd, though hiccupping and coughing – for all my life I have eaten over much, my son – and thy heart must be hard indeed, if having heard me, thou dost not shed a few tears.’

“‘I shall weep, father,’ answers King Philip.

“Then His Sacred Majesty speaks to a valet called Dubois:

“‘Dubois,’ says he, ‘give me a piece of Madeira sugar, I have a hiccup. If only it will not seize me when I shall be speaking to all these people. Will that goose I had yesterday never be done with! Should I drink a tankard of Orleans wine? No, it is too harsh! Should I eat a few anchovies? They are very oily. Dubois, give me some Romagna wine.’

“Dubois gives His Majesty what he asketh, then puts upon him a gown of crimson velvet, wraps him in a gold cloak, girds on his sword, puts into his hands the sceptre and the globe, and the crown upon his head.

“Then His Sacred Majesty leaves the house in the Park, riding on a low mule and followed by King Philip and many high personages. In this fashion they go into a great building that they call a palace, and there they find in a chamber a tall slender man, richly clad, whom they call Orange.

“His Sacred Majesty speaks to this man and says to him: ‘Do I look well, cousin William?’

“But the man makes no answer, not a word.

“His Sacred Majesty then says to him, half laughing, half angry:

“‘You will be dumb always, then, cousin, even to tell the truth to old broken-down things? Ought I to reign still or to abdicate, Silent One?’

“‘Sacred Majesty,’ replied the slender man, ‘when winter cometh the most vigorous oaks let their leaves fall.’

“Three of the clock strikes.

“‘Silent One,’ says he, ‘lend me thy shoulder, that I may lean on it.’

“And he enters with him and with his retinue into a great hall, takes his seat under a canopy and on a dais covered with silk or crimson carpets. There are three seats on it: His Sacred Majesty takes the middle one, more ornate than the others, and surmounted with an imperial crown; King Philip sits on the second, and the third is for a woman, who is doubtless a queen. To the right and to the left, seated upon tapestried benches and cushioned, are men clad in red and wearing a little gold sheep on their necks. Behind them are placed many persons who are doubtless princes and lords. Over against them and at the foot of the dais are seated, upon benches that have no cushions, men clad in cloth. I hear them say that they are thus modestly seated and clad only because they are themselves paying all their proper charges. All rose up when His Sacred Majesty came in, but he soon sate him down and signed to all to sit down likewise.

“An old man next speaks long about the gout, then the woman, who seemeth to be a queen, hands His Sacred Majesty a roll of parchment in which are written things which His Sacred Majesty reads out, coughing, and in a voice low and indistinct, and speaking of himself says:

“‘I have made many voyages in Spain, in Italy, in the Low Countries, in England and in Africa, all for the glory of God, the lustre of my arms, and the welfare of my peoples.’

“Then having spoken long, he says that he is broken and weary, and fain to deliver the crown of Spain, the counties, duchies, marquisates of these lands into his son’s hands.

“Then he weeps, and all weep with him.

“King Philip now rises, and falling upon his knees:

“‘Sacred Majesty,’ he says, ‘is it for me to accept this crown at your hands when you are so capable of wearing it still!’

“Then His Sacred Majesty whispered in his ear to speak comfortably to the men seated upon the cushioned benches.

“King Philip, turning towards them, says to them in a harsh tone and without rising:

“‘I understand French passing well, but not sufficiently to speak to you in that tongue. Ye will hear what the Bishop of Arras, Master Grandvelle, shall say to you on my behalf.’

“‘Thou sayest ill, my son,’ says His Sacred Majesty.

“And indeed the assembly murmurs, seeing the young king so arrogant and so haughty. The woman, who is the queen, speaks also to make her eulogy, then comes the turn of an aged man of learning who, when he has made an end, receives a sign from the hand of His Sacred Majesty by way of thanks. These ceremonies and harangues being over, His Sacred Majesty declares his subjects released from their oath of fidelity, signs the acts drawn up to that end, and rising up from his throne, sets his son therein. And everyone in the hall weeps. Then they go back to the house in the Park.

“There, being once more in the green chamber, alone and all doors fast shut, His Sacred Majesty laughs loud and long, and speaking to King Philip who laughs not:

“‘Did you see,’ he says, speaking, hiccuping, and laughing all together, ‘how little is needed to move these good souls? What a deluge of tears! And that fat Maes who, when he finished his long discourse, wept like a calf. You yourself seemed touched, but not enough. These are the true spectacles the common folk must have. My son, we men love our mistresses the more the more they cost us. It is the same with peoples. The more we make them pay, the more they love us. In Germany I tolerated the reformed faith that I punished severely in the Low Countries. If the princes of Germany had been catholic, I would have been Lutheran and confiscated their goods. They believe in the reality of my zeal for the Roman faith and regret to see me leave them. There have perished at my hands, in the Low Countries and for heresy, fifty thousand of their most hardy men and prettiest maids. I am departing, they lament. Without counting confiscations, I have made them pay more than the Indies and Peru: they are heartbroken at losing me. I have torn up the peace of Cadzand, broken Ghent, suppressed everything that could come in my way; liberties, franchises, privileges, everything is at the discretion of the prince’s officers: these good souls think they are still free because I allow them to shoot with the cross bow and carry the banners of their guilds in procession. They felt my hand as master: put in a cage, they find themselves comfortable there, they sing in it and weep for me. My son, be to them as I have been: benign in words, harsh in deeds; lick as long as there is no need to bite. Swear, swear always to their liberties, franchises, and privileges, but if there be any peril to yourself, destroy them all. They are iron if one touch them with a faltering hand, glass if you brush them with a strong arm. Smite heresy not because of its divergence from the Roman religion, but because in these Low Countries it would destroy our authority; those that attack the Pope, who weareth a triple crown, have speedily done with princes that have but one. Make it treason, as I did liberty of conscience, entailing the confiscation of goods, and you will inherit them as I did all my life, and when you depart, to abdicate or to die, they will say: – ’Oh! the good prince!’ and they will weep.

“And I hear nothing more,” went on Nele, “for His Sacred Majesty has lain down on a bed and is asleep, and King Philip, arrogant and proud, looks upon him with no love.”

Having said so much, Nele was awakened by Katheline. And Claes, pensive, looked at the flame on the hearth lightening up the chimney place.