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THE DUKE OF ALVA.*
FERDINANDO ALVAREZ DE TOLEDO, Duke of Alva, was now in his sixtieth year. He was the most successful and experienced general of Spain, or of Europe. No man had studied more deeply, or practised more constantly, the military science. In the most important of all arts at that epoch he was the most consummate artist. In the only honourable profession of the age, he was the most thorough and the most pedantic professor. Since the days of Demetrius Poliorcetes, no man had besieged so many cities. Since the days of Fabius Cunctator, no general had avoided so many battles, and no soldier, courageous as he was, ever attained to a more sublime indifference to calumny or depreciation. Having proved in his boyhood, at Fontarabia, and in his maturity at Mühlberg, that he could exhibit heroism and headlong courage when necessary, he could afford to look with contempt upon the witless gibes which his enemies had occasionally perpetrated at his expense. Conscious of holding his armies in his hand, by the power of an unrivalled discipline, and the magic of a name illustrated by a hundred triumphs, he could bear with patience and benevolence the murmurs of his soldiers when their battles were denied them.
* From The Rise of the Dutch Republic.
He was born in 1508, of a family which boasted imperial descent. A Palæologus, brother of a Byzantine emperor, had conquered the city of Toledo, and transmitted its appellation as a family
The father of Ferdinando, Don Garcia, had been slain on the Isle of Gerbes, in battle with the Moors, when his son was but four years of age. The child was brought up by his grandfather, Don Frederic, and trained from his tenderest infancy to arms. Hatred to the infidel, and a determination to avenge his father's blood, crying to him from a foreign grave, were the earliest of his instincts. As a youth he was distinguished for his prowess. His maiden sword was fleshed at Fontarabia, where, although but sixteen years of age, he was considered, by his constancy in hardship, by his brilliant and desperate courage, and by the example of military discipline which he afforded to the troops, to have contributed in no small degree to the success of the Spanish arms.
In 1530, he accompanied the emperor in his campaign against the Turk. Charles, instinctively recognizing the merit of the youth who was destined to be the life-long companion of his toils and glories, distinguished him with his favour at the opening of his career. Young, brave and enthusiastic, Ferdinand de Toledo at this period was as interesting a hero as ever illustrated the pages of Castilian romance. His mad ride from Hungary to Spain and back again, accomplished in seventeen days, for the sake of a brief visit to his newlymarried wife, is not the least attractive episode in
the history of an existence which was destined to be so dark and sanguinary. In 1535 he accompanied the emperor on his memorable expedition to Tunis. In 1546 and 1547 he was generalissimo in the war against the Smalcaldian league. His most brilliant feat of arms — perhaps the most brilliant exploit of the emperor's reign-was the passage of the Elbe and the battle of Mühlberg, accomplished in spite of Maximilian's bitter and violent reproaches, and the tremendous possibilities of a defeat. That battle had finished the war. The gigantic and magnanimous John Frederic, surprised at his devotions in the church, fled in dismay, leaving his boots behind him, which, for their superhuman size, were ridiculously said afterwards to be treasured among the trophies of the Toledo house. The rout was total. “I came, I saw, and God conquered," said the emperor, in pious parody of his immortal predecessor's epigram. Maxmilian, with a thousand apologies for his previous insults, embraced the heroic Don Ferdinand over and over again, as, arrayed in a plain suit of blue armour, unadorned save with streaks of his enemies' blood, he returned from pursuit of the fugitives.
So complete and so sudden was the victory, that it was found impossible to account for it, save on the ground of miraculous interposition. Like Joshua in the vale of Ajalon, Don Ferdinand was supposed to have commanded the sun to stand still for a season, and to have been obeyed. Otherwise, how could the passage of the river, which was only concluded at six in the evening, and the complete overthrow of the Protestant forces, have all been accomplished within the narrow space of an April twilight? The reply of the Duke to Henry the Second of France, who questioned him subsequently upon the subject, is well known. “Your Majesty, I was too much occupied that evening with what was taking place on the earth beneath, to pay much heed to the evolutions of the heavenly bodies.”
Spared as he had been by his good fortune from taking any part in the Algerine expedition, or in witnessing the ignominious retreat from Innspruck, he was obliged to submit to the intercalation of the disastrous siege of Metz in the long history of his successes. Doing the duty of a field-marshal and a sentinel, supporting his army by his firmness and his discipline, when nothing else could have supported them, he was at last enabled, after half the hundred thousand men with whom Charles had begun the siege had been sacrificed, to induce his imperial master to raise the siege before the remaining fifty thousand had been frozen or starved to death.
The culminating career of Alva seemed to have closed in the mist which gathered around the setting star of the Empire. Having accompanied Philip to England in 1554, on his matrimonial expedition, he was destined in the following years, as viceroy and generalissimo of Italy, to be placed in a series of false positions. A great captain engaged in a little war, the champion of the cross in arms against the successor of St. Peter, he had extricated himself at last, with his usual adroitness, but with very little glory. To him had been allotted the mortification, to another the triumph. The lustre of his own name seemed to sink in the ocean, while that of a hated rival, with new spangled ore, suddenly “flamed in the forehead of the morning sky." While he had been paltering with a dotard, whom lie was forbidden to crush, Egmont had struck down the chosen troops of France, and conquered her most illustrious commanders. Here was the unpardonable crime which could only be expiated by the blood of the victor. Unfortunately for his rival, the time was now approaching when the longdeferred revenge was to be satisfied.
On the whole, the Duke of Alva was inferior to no general of his age. As a disciplinarian he was foremost in Spain, perhaps in Europe. A spendthrift of time, he was an economist of blood, and this was, perhaps, in the eye of humanity, his principal virtue. "Time and myself are two," was a frequent observation of Philip, and his favourite general considered the maxim as applicable to war as to politics. Such were his qualities as a military commander. As a statesman, he had neither experience nor talent. As a man, his character was simple. He did not combine a great variety of vices, but those which he had were colossal, and he possessed no virtues. He was neither lustful nor intemperate, but his professed eulogists admitted his enormous avarice, while the world has agreed that such an amount of stealth and ferocity, of