Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Resignation of a Crown
By William Robertson (17211793)
From History of Charles V.
AS this, then, appeared to be the proper juncture for executing the scheme which he had long meditated, Charles resolved to resign his kingdoms to his son, with a solemnity suitable to the importance of the transaction, and to perform this last act of sovereignty with such formal pomp, as might leave a lasting impression on the minds not only of his subjects but of his successor. With this view, he called Philip out of England, where the peevish temper of his queen, which increased with her despair of having issue, rendered him extremely unhappy, and the jealousy of the English left him no hopes of obtaining the direction of their affairs. Having assembled the States of the Low Countries at Brussels, on the twenty-fifth of October, Charles seated himself, for the last time, in the chair of state, on one side of which was placed his son, and on the other his sister, the Queen of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands, with a splendid retinue of the princes of the Empire and grandees of Spain standing behind him. The president of the council of Flanders, by his command, explained, in a few words, his intention in calling this extraordinary meeting of the States. He then read the instrument of resignation, by which Charles surrendered to his son Philip all his territories, jurisdiction, and authority in the Low Countries, absolving his subjects there from the oath of allegiance to him, which he required them to transfer to Philip, his lawful heir, and to serve him with the same loyalty and zeal which they had manifested, during so long a course of years, in support of his government.
Charles then rose from his seat, and leaning on the shoulder of the Prince of Orange, because he was unable to stand without support, he addressed himself to the audience, and from a paper which he held in his hand, in order to assist his memory, he recounted, with dignity but without ostentation, all the great things which he had undertaken and performed since the commencement of his administration. He observed, that from the seventeenth year of his age, he had dedicated all his thoughts and attention to public objects, reserving no portion of his time for the indulgence of his ease, and very little for the enjoyment of private pleasure; that, either in a pacific or hostile manner, he had visited Germany nine times, Spain six times, France four times, Italy seven times, the Low Countries ten times, England twice, Africa as often, and had made eleven voyages by sea; that while his health permitted him to discharge his duty, and the vigour of his constitution was equal, in any degree, to the arduous office of governing such extensive dominions, he had never shunned labour, nor repined under fatigue; that now, when his health was broken, and his strength exhausted by the rage of an incurable distemper, his growing infirmities admonished him to retire; nor was he so fond of reigning, as to retain the sceptre in an impotent hand, which was no longer able to protect his subjects, or to secure to them the happiness which he wished them to enjoy; that instead of a sovereign worn out with diseases, and scarcely half alive, he gave them one in the prime of life, accustomed already to govern, and who added to the vigour of youth all the attention and sagacity of maturer years; that if, during the course of a long administration, he had committed any material error in government, or if, under the pressure of so many and great affairs, and amidst the attention which he had been obliged to give to them, he had either neglected or injured any of his subjects, he now implored their forgiveness; that, for his part, he should ever retain a grateful sense of their fidelity and attachment, and would carry the remembrance of it along with him to the place of his retreat, as his sweetest consolation, as well as the best reward for all his services, and in his last prayers to Almighty God would pour forth his most earnest petitions for their welfare.
Then turning towards Philip, who fell on his knees and kissed his fathers hand:If, says he, I had left you by my death this rich inheritance, to which I have made such large additions, some regard would have been justly due to my memory on that account; but now, when I voluntarily resign to you what I might have still retained, I may well expect the warmest expressions of thanks on your part. With these, however, I dispense, and shall consider your concern for the welfare of your subjects, and your love of them, as the best and most acceptable testimony of your gratitude to me. It is in your power, by a wise and virtuous administration, to justify the extraordinary proof which I, this day, give of my paternal affection, and to demonstrate that you are worthy of the confidence which I repose in you. Preserve an inviolable regard for religion; maintain the Catholic faith in its purity; let the laws of your country be sacred in your eyes; encroach not on the rights and privileges of your people; and, if the time should ever come, when you shall wish to enjoy the tranquillity of private life, may you have a son endowed with such qualities, that you can resign your sceptre to him, with as much satisfaction as I give mine to you.
As soon as Charles had finished his long address to his subjects and to their new sovereign, he sunk into the chair, exhausted and ready to faint with the fatigue of such an extraordinary effort. During his discourse, the whole audience melted into tears, some from admiration of his magnanimity, others softened by his expressions of tenderness towards his son, and of love to his people; and all were affected with the deepest sorrow at losing a sovereign, who, during his administration, had distinguished the Netherlands, his native country, with particular marks of his regard and attachment.
Philip then arose from his knees, and after returning thanks to his father, with a low and submissive voice, for the royal gift which his unexampled bounty had bestowed upon him, he addressed the assembly of the States, and regretting his inability to speak in the Flemish language with such facility as to express what he felt on this interesting occasion, as well as what he owed to his good subjects in the Netherlands, he begged that they would permit Granvelle, Bishop of Arras, to deliver what he had given him in charge to speak in his name. Granvelle, in a long discourse, expatiated on the zeal with which Philip was animated for the good of his subjects, on his resolution to devote all his time and talents to the promoting of their happiness, and on his intention to imitate his fathers example in distinguishing the Netherlands with particular marks of his regard. Maes, a lawyer of great eloquence, replied, in the name of the States, with large professions of their fidelity and affection to their new sovereign.
Then Mary, Queen Dowager of Hungary, resigned the regency with which she had been entrusted by her brother during the space of twenty-five years. Next day Philip, in the presence of the States, took the usual oaths to maintain the rights and privileges of his subjects; and all the members, in their own name, and in that of their constituents, swore allegiance to him.
A few weeks after this transaction, Charles, in an assembly not less splendid, and with a ceremonial equally pompous, resigned to his son the crowns of Spain, with all the territories depending on them, both in the old and in the new world. Of all these vast possessions, he reserved nothing for himself but an annual pension of a hundred thousand crowns, to defray the charges of his family, and to afford him a small sum for acts of beneficence and charity.
As he had fixed on a place of retreat in Spain, hoping that the dryness and the warmth of the climate in that country might mitigate the violence of his disease, which had been much increased by the moisture of the air and the rigour of the winters in the Netherlands, he was extremely impatient to embark for that kingdom, and to disengage himself entirely from business, which he found to be impossible while he remained in Brussels. But his physicians remonstrated so strongly against his venturing to sea at that cold and boisterous season of the year, that he consented, though with reluctance, to put off his voyage for some months.