Sir John van Olden Barnavelt Summary
by John Fletcher, Philip Massinger

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Sir John van Olden Barnavelt Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Although hostilities with Spain had ended with the Twelve Year Truce in 1609, the infant Dutch states were still upset in 1618 by internal political and religious strife. To Modesbargen, Leidenberch, and Grotius, the silver-haired patriot Barnavelt declared his dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs, for with the support of the army, the Prince of Orange was becoming known among the people as the father of his country and the chief champion of the new freedom. The contributions of the older patriots, particularly Barnavelt, were being forgotten; he hinted darkly that he, who had done so much to bring about the Spanish defeat, would see his country overthrown again before he would allow his honor to be so sullied.

Although Modesbargen reminded Barnavelt that his services had been well rewarded and that his present course of action could lead only to his ruin, Grotius and Leidenberch enthusiastically supported him, and Modesbargen agreed eventually to help Barnavelt in any way that would not prejudice the state.

The conference was interrupted by two captains, one of whom was to be judged by Barnavelt for having spoken scornfully of the Lords of the States. Coldly, Barnavelt relieved the captain of his command, telling him that he could look to the Prince of Orange for maintenance. Although Leidenberch privately promised the cashiered officer that he would intervene for him, the captain, who knew that Leidenberch’s genial manner covered a cold and relentless nature, announced that he would seek to reestablish himself by bribing Barnavelt’s wife or by furnishing a fresh wench for his son.

In a second conference with his friends, Barnavelt avowed himself, like them, an Arminian, and urged that they enroll companies of citizens in the provincial cities for the defense of the sect against its enemy, the Prince of Orange, whose regular troops were garrisoned at Utrecht. Modesbargen again protested, this time that religion should not be made a cloak for subversive political activity, but Barnavelt cynically replied that any weapon could be used that would serve their cause. He then persuaded Bredero and Vandort, two Lords of the States, to order the Prince of Orange locked out of a meeting of the Lords which was about to take place.

When the prince arrived and found the doors of the council chamber barred against him, he had difficulty in restraining his attendants, who realized the enormity of the insult, from forcing their way in. His humility and modesty prevailed, however, and he remained without until Barnavelt and the Lords appeared. He inquired why he had lost his seat. In reply, Barnavelt spoke harshly, charging him with haughtiness. Bredero and Vandort were shocked and offended not only by Barnavelt’s outspokenness and offensive tone but also by his assumption of the right to speak for them. Instead of joining Leidenberch and Modesbargen in following Barnavelt to his home, they remained behind and assured the prince of their loyalty to him. With their assent the prince resolved to move against the towns in which Barnavelt’s supporters had raised citizen companies.

Although Barnavelt knew that the Prince of Orange would attempt to disband the companies, he confidently believed that the prince would not risk civil war and that in any event his own reputation would protect himself and his followers from harm. In Utrecht the citizens attempted to persuade the regular garrison to desert the prince and serve Barnavelt’s cause; but the soldiers, remembering their loyalty to the House of Orange, resisted the blandishments of the wily Leidenberch. When the soldiers remained firm against threats to oust them from the town, Barnavelt realized that a crisis was nearing. While his followers proceeded to muster the citizen companies, he returned to The Hague to begin a diverting action.

Meanwhile, four Dutch women, all ardent feminists, attempted to convince a visiting English gentlewoman of the advantages of living in a free...

(The entire section is 1,467 words.)