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Rev. WILLIAM DILLINGHAM, D.D. Continuation of the Siege of Ostend, from 25 July, 1601, as far as 7 Mar. 1602.
ERE endeth, or rather here breaks off, Sir FRANCIS VERE'S Commentary. For he continued in his Government of Ostend for many months after [till 7th March, 1602]: but, whether it was because he thought it needless to give the world any further account of it, who were all, by this time, become, as it were, Spectators and Eyewitnesses of what he did; or whether he thought that it being so well known to many, some other would carry on the Relation, if the world should think it needful; or whatever else the reason was: I do not find that his pen ever went any further.
Yet because there were many things performed by him worthy of observation, and because the reader may perhaps have a curiosity to see the end of the story; I shall here presume to subjoin a brief account of the chief passages in the sequel of that action, according to what I have met with recorded by others, to my hand, that so we may bring off Sir FRANCIS VERE with honour from so great an engagement, and deliver him safe from the exceeding hazard of that employment: and this the rather, because I think this was the last action of consequence wherein he embarked.
General VERE had no sooner taken a sure footing to himself, and fitted the scene whereon the bloody Tragedy was afterwards to be acted, but he gave a pledge of his resolution to abide by it: refusing to quit his lodgings, notwithstanding that the enemy's cannon had
176 Vere woundED BY A CANNON SPLINTER. [Rev. W. Dillingham.
pierced them through with many a shot, and quite battered a little tower belonging to them.
But though his enemy's cannon could not enforce him to abandon so much as his own lodgings; yet did his own, by a shrewd mishap, constrain him to withdraw himself for a time out of the town. For
on the 14th of August , being wounded in the head with the blow of a cannon that split in the discharging, he removed into Zealand to be cured of his hurt. The enemy having gotten intelligence hereof, made no small expressions of joy and triumph; discharging many a peal of cannon.
Whereby if they hoped to fill the hearts of the besieged with terror and consternation, and to beat them from their former resolution; they were much mistaken. For the brave English soldiers observing what storms of great shot came rolling into the town, the besiegers having already discharged little less than 35,000 cannon shot against it; and perceiving by the story, that all the houses were likely, ere long, to be beaten about their ears, and so were likelier to endanger them by their fall, than any way to secure and protect them from the fury of the enemy's artillery: they advised themselves to take this
There was a green plot of ground in the town, commonly used for a market-place, which was something higher than the rest of the streets. Here did they earth themselves, by digging it hollow, and fitting themselves with cabins and lodgings within the ground. The like did they, by another void piece of ground upon the south-west.
Whereby, as they thought themselves secure from the enemy's battery, being confident they would not shoot mattocks and pickaxes; so did they sufficiently testify their own resolution, rather to inter themselves in the graves which they had digged, than to quit their possession of the place unto the enemy.
Hereupon, the besiegers shifted sails, and suiting their counsels to the disposition of the English soldiers (who are sooner won by fair means than foul), shot arrows with letters into the English Quarters, promising ten stivers [=1s. 2d. (=5s. now)] a day to such as would serve the Archduke against the town.
But these offers were slighted by the English, who hated falseness as much as they contemned danger: and this device was looked upon by those of the town, as the product of languishing counsels; which having already spent all their powder, came a begging for the conclusion.
And if the Archduke had then given over the siege, I question not but the world would generally have excused him. For what should he do?
He had made his approaches as near unto Sand Hill as was
Rev. W. Dillingham. Death of the LORD OF CHATILLON. 177
possible for the Haven; which was the most probable place of doing any good upon the town. And therefore he had, ever since the beginning of the siege, bent the most of his great shot upon it, if it were possible to have made a breach: but all had hitherto produced no other effect than the fortifying of the Sand Hill Bulwark, instead of beating it down. For by this time, it was so thickly studded with bullets, that the ordnance could scarcely shoot without a tautology and hitting its former bullets; which, like an iron wall, made the later fly in pieces up in the air. Yea, the bullets in it were so many, that they left not room to drive in palisadoes, though pointed with iron and some there were, that would have undertaken to make the Bulwark [a]new, if they might have had the bullets for their pains.
Besides, whenever they meant to assault it, they must resolve to force seven Palisadoes made of great piles, within the haven, before they could come to the foot of the Bulwark: and if they were not intercepted by the springing of a mine or two, yet was the Bulwark itself unmountable by armed men. And it might easily have been conceived they had gotten intelligence that there were thirteen cannon in the Counterscarp and other convenient places, charged with chained shot and rusty iron to scour the Sand Hill, if need should require.
Besides all this, all was to be done at a running pull. For when the coming in of the tide should sound a retreat, off they must! or be utterly lost. And they easily saw that the musketeers in the Half-moon of the Counterscarp were likely to give them such a welcome as would make many of them forget to return to the camp.
Notwithstanding all these great difficulties, no advice of old Captains could prevail against the obstinacy of the States of Flanders: who, to keep life in the siege, spared not to undertake the payment of a million of crowns [=£300,000 (£1,300,000 now)] to the Archduke, rather than he should draw off from the town.
So that he took up a resolution not to stir, and, as his fugitives [deserters] reported, once he swore that "he would not rise from the table at which he sat, before they of the town were made to serve him." But then they, on the other side, laid a wager that they " would give it him so hot, that it should burn his fingers."
Not long after, the Lord of CHATILLON met with an unhappy mischance. For being upon the high Bulwark of Sand Hill, with Colonel UTENBRUCH and other Gentlemen and men of Command; he had his head struck off, above the teeth, with a cannon shot; and his brains dashed upon the Colonel's left cheek. Which possibly might receive its direction from the self-same hand, that did, more than once during this siege, shoot a bullet into the mouth of a charged cannon; which,
178 VERE RETURNS TO HIS COMMAND. [Rev. W. Dillingham,
because it would not be too long indebted for such a courtesy, taking fire with the blow, returned the bullet instantly back again, attended with another of its own.
As good a marksman was he, if he did it of design, who, when a soldier of the town, having bought a loaf of bread, was holding it up in a boasting way, with a shot took away the uppermost half [of it], leaving the other in the soldier's hand: who, finding that he had received no hurt, said, "It was a fair conditioned bullet ! for it had left him the better half behind." However, I believe he would rather have been contented with the lesser half, than run the hazard of dividing again.
On the 19th of September , General VERE, being cured of his hurt, returned from Zealand into the town: where he found 2,000 English and 20 Ensigns [= companies] of French, Walloons, Scotch, and Frisons, that had arrived in his absence.
Soon after his arrival, he took care for the thickening and strengthening of divers of the works, and the uniting of those outworks on the south and west, the better thereby to secure their relief, and preserve them from the injury of the waters in the winter season.
Which the enemy perceiving, and that the town grew daily stronger and stronger, resolved to attempt it by treachery, taking the old
dolus an virtus quis in hoste requirat?
To that purpose, an Englishman named N. CONISBY, as the French Diary [i.e., of the Siege; ? that by HENRI HESTENS, intituled Histoire du Siege d'Ostende en Flandres, printed by ELZEVIR, at Leyden in 1615] relates, who had served them long in the quality of a Captain of foot in their army, returned through France into England: where he prevailed so much, by means of his friends, that he obtained letters of recommendation to Sir FRANCIS VERE. Unto whom, presenting himself, he desired to be admitted one of his Company: which the General could not refuse, he being a Gentleman and so effectually recommended.
This traitor having thus screwed himself unto Ostend, quickly began his practice. For he received letters and other things weekly from the enemy, and gave them intelligence of all that passed within the town, and of the best means to annoy it; managing his practices and projects according to the instructions which he received from them.
For the better conveyance of his letters to the enemy, he carried them into a broken boat, which in the beginning of the siege had been sunk by the enemy, and lay upon the dry ground betwixt the town and the camp, under the colour [pretence] of gratifying nature;
Rev. W. Dillingham. THE PLOT OF CAPTAIN N. CONISBY. 179
and there disposed them in a place appointed: whence the enemy fetched them by night, with the help of a little boat; and, upon certain days, brought him answers, and sometimes money for his reward, which he failed not to fetch at the place appointed.
When he was discovered, he had drawn four men into his conspiracy among others a Sergeant, who was the means of revealing
This Sergeant coming out of prison, where his Captain had caused him to be laid some days in irons, being all malcontent, chanced to meet with CONISBY: who told him he was glad to see him out of prison; withal asking him the reason of his so great and grievous punishment.
To whom, the Sergeant railing upon his Captain, sware earnestly, that he would be revenged for the wrong he had received, though it cost him his life.
CONISBY, Supposing he had found a man fit for his purpose, told him he might easily find the means to be revenged, without losing his life, and with his own profit and advancement; and that if he would follow his counsel, he should want no money.
The Sergeant began to listen to his words, and seemed inclinable enough to so advantageous a design, and ready to follow his advice. Whereupon CONISBY, having first made him swear secrecy, discovered himself: and presently asked him if he had the resolution to set fire on one of the Magazines; for which purpose, he himself had prepared a certain invention of powder, lead, and match.
This, the Sergeant undertook to perform; which he said, "could not be difficult for him to do, being often sent to fetch powder for the soldiers."
CONISBY assured him that he had practised [with] more associates; and that when he should have made the number up to twenty, he would then put the design in execution: which was, that one of the Magazines being set on fire, he would so work it, as to have the guard of a Sluice in a Bulwark near the enemy, who should then give on, and be admitted into the town.
The Sergeant seemed to hug the device, demanding only of CONISBY Some assurance, under his hand, that he should have his recompence when the work should be performed. Which having once obtained, away he goes to the General, and discovers the practice to
Whereupon CONISBY being apprehended and put to the rack, confessed all, and that he came to Ostend with that purpose and intent: as also what instructions and promises he had received; and what [ac]complices he had made, who were likewise apprehended and put in prison.
This plot failing, the enemy's only hope of taking the town was by