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Mary Macgregor

Montigny's Doom

The amnesty was no sooner proclaimed than Alva hastened to meet Philip's new bride, Anne of Austria, as she passed through the Netherlands on her way to Spain.

Queen Isabella's death had left Philip for the third time a widower, while the death of his son, Don Carlos, had left him without an heir to his throne. The King's grief for the loss of his beautiful Queen was great. Yet when the Emperor offered the bereaved monarch the hand of his daughter, the Archduchess Anne, he laid aside his sorrow and accepted the proposal to make Anne his bride.

Her reception by Alva at Brussels was as gorgeous, and the entertainments were as brilliant, as though the city had already forgotten its baptism of blood.

But the darker side could not be altogether concealed from the Archduchess Anne. The Dowager Countess of Hoorn, who had seen her eldest son perish on the scaffold, now feared for the safety of Montigny, her younger son, who was still kept closely a prisoner in Spain. She obtained an interview with the bride, and entreated her when she reached Spain to plead that the life of her youngest son might be spared. Solemnly the Archduchess promised that her first request to Philip should be for the life of the young Count. And she kept her word, but it was too late, for Philip had already stained his hands yet more deeply by the infamous murder of Montigny.

From the moment that Berghen and Montigny, the two envoys of Margaret of Parma, had set foot in Spain in 1566, Philip had resolved that they should never return. From the first, though not imprisoned, they were in reality captives. Berghen drooped and died in 1567, while Montigny was then closely confined in the castle of Segovia. Here he remained for eight or nine months shut up in a high tower; nor was he allowed any attendants, save only a young page who had come with him from the Netherlands. Eight men-at-arms were ordered to guard against his escape. Slowly and drearily the days passed in the high tower where Montigny lay dreaming of home and pining for liberty. Then one day towards the middle of July 1568 his listlessness was disturbed. Floating up to his high tower came the sounds of a song, and the words were in the language of his fatherland. A band of pilgrims, some of them in Flemish attire, were passing through the streets of Segovia. As they passed slowly along they chanted a low monotonous song. Montigny, fascinated by the sound of his own language, strained his ears to catch more clearly the distant notes. With sudden apprehension the meaning of the words sank into his brain. The pretended pilgrims, knowing no other way to reach him, were singing the terrible doom of his brother, Count Hoorn, and his comrade, Count Egmont. Mingled with the strain he caught a sad foreboding of his own fate, should he not be able to escape from his prison. Montigny, thus forewarned, resolved to effect his escape, were it possible. He succeeded in gaining the goodwill of one of the eight soldiers by whom he was guarded, and thus he was able to write to many of his own followers without the prison walls. Their answers were written on small pieces of paper, and these were skilfully concealed in the loaves which were daily brought to the Count. In the same way files were sent that he might saw through the bars of his window, and even a delicate ladder of ropes reached him unnoticed. At length all was arranged. Horses were to be ready to convey the fugitives to the shore, where a sloop had already been engaged to await their arrival.

Montigny was confidently looking for his final instructions. The loaf which brought them would, he believed, be the last he should break in prison. Unfortunately the loaf, instead of being taken to the Count, was by some mistake carried to the commandant of the castle. As he proceeded leisurely to break his bread, the concealed letter dropped on the table, and it was the bewildered commandant who read the final instructions to his prisoner. After cutting off his beard and otherwise disguising himself Montigny was to let himself down into the court by his delicate ladder of ropes and then hasten to join his confederates. The whole plan was laid bare to the astonished castellan, who did not delay to act on his discovery. All those privy to the plot, while still in ignorance of their betrayal, were arrested and condemned to death. The Spanish soldier who had aided Montigny was executed without delay. Montigny himself was now kept in still closer confinement in his lonely tower, with little hope of escape to cheer him.

In the autumn of 1568 the Count's case was brought before the Blood Council, and he, a prisoner in Spain, was put upon trial for his life in Brussels. It was true that the Count was allowed to engage an advocate, but as this advocate had never seen his client and was allowed to hold no communication with him, there was little help to be expected from his defence. The proceedings were begun by the Duke of Alva, who summoned Madame de Montigny, the Count's young wife, to appear in place of her absent husband. But she could only appeal to the King, beseeching him by the passion of Jesus Christ to pardon any faults her husband might have committed, and begging him to remember the loyal service of Montigny in the past and her own youth.

The appeal of the young wife was of no avail, and on March 4, 1570, the case was brought to an end, and Montigny was condemned to be beheaded as a traitor, his property being confiscated to the throne.

Six months passed, and the sentence had not yet been carried out, when Philip, hearing of his new Queen's promise to the Countess of Hoorn, resolved that Montigny must die before her arrival.

On October 1, 1570, Philip therefore commanded that the Count should be removed from the tower at Segovia to the castle of Simancas. He at the same time wrote to the Governor of the castle that Montigny was to be privately strangled, though all the world was to be told that he had died from fever. To aid in the deception a medical man was ordered to call at the castle for several days, bringing with him medicines for the pretended patient. Montigny was told that as a special act of grace the King had granted that he should be privately executed. He was allowed to make a will on condition that he wrote it as though he was a sick man lying on his bed, as also a letter of farewell to his wife. On October 16, between one and two in the morning, an executioner arrived and did his ghastly work, the body being then clothed in a habit of Saint Francis, that no mark of violence might be visible.

Obeying Philip's orders, the Governor of Simancas then wrote to his Majesty, gravely assuring him that, despite the utmost care, Montigny's fever had unhappily proved fatal. The King was careful to appear grieved at the intelligence, and wrote to the well-trained Governor that the funeral should take place with due regard to the rank of the Count, and that his servants should be given each a suit of mourning.

A few weeks later Philip wrote to Alva announcing that the Count de Montigny had died in prison from a malignant fever, while by the same courier came a second and private letter from the King giving a true account of the dark deed which had been done in the castle of Simancas.

Thus perished a loyal subject and a faithful communicant of the Catholic Church. That he had gone to Spain as the deputy of the King's sister, Margaret of Parma, could not save him. That he was clothed in the white robes of an envoy, with the right to claim not only justice, but hospitality, was not enough to deter Philip from arranging, as it seemed with a grim satisfaction, the midnight murder of the Count.