One of the first cares of the council-pensionary after the peace with England was to deal with the internal troubles which were disturbing certain parts of the land, notably Groningen, Zeeland and Overyssel. In the last-named province a serious party struggle arose out of the appointment of a strong Orangist, named Haersolte, to the post of Drost or governor of Twente. The Estates were split up, the Orange partisans meeting at Zwolle, the anti-Orange at Deventer. Both enlisted troops, but those of Zwolle were the stronger and laid siege to Deventer. The victorious Orangists then nominated William III as stadholder with William Frederick as his lieutenant. At last, after three years' strife, the parties called in De Witt and William Frederick as mediators. But De Witt was far too clever for the Friesland stadholder. It happened that the post of field-marshal had just fallen vacant by the death of Brederode. Both William Frederick and his cousin Joan Maurice aspired to the office. The council-pensionary induced his co-mediator, with the hope of becoming Brederode's successor, to yield on all points. Haersolte was deprived of office; the prince's appointment as stadholder was suspended until his majority; and therefore William Frederick could not act as his lieutenant. Thus peace was restored to Overyssel, but William Frederick was not appointed field-marshal. In the other provinces the tact and skill of De Witt were equally successful in allaying discord. He would not have been so successful had the Orange party not been hopelessly divided and had it possessed capable leaders.
As an administrator and organiser the council-pensionary at once applied himself to two most important tasks, financial reform and naval reconstruction. The burden of debt upon the province of Holland, which had borne so large a part of the charges of the war, was crushing. The rate of interest had been reduced in 1640 from 6 J to 5 per cent. But the cost of the English war, which was wholly a naval war, had caused the debt of Holland to mount to 153,000,000 guilders, the interest on which was 7,000,000 guilders per annum. De Witt first took in hand a thorough overhauling of the public accounts, by means of which he was enabled to check unnecessary outlay and to effect a number of economies. Finding however that, despite his efforts to reduce expenditure, he could not avoid an annual deficit, the council-pensionary took the bold step of proposing a further reduction of interest from 5 to 4 per cent. He had some difficulty in persuading the investors in government funds to consent, but he overcame opposition by undertaking to form a sinking fund by which the entire debt should be paid off in 41 years. Having thus placed the finances of the province on a sound basis, De Witt next brought a similar proposal before the States-General with the result that the interest on the Generality debt was likewise reduced to 4 per cent.
The English war had conclusively proved to the Dutch their inferiority in the size and armament of their war-vessels, and of the need of a complete reorganisation of the fleet. De Witt lost no time in taking the necessary steps. The custom which had hitherto prevailed of converting merchantmen into ships of war at the outbreak of hostilities was abandoned. Steps were taken to build steadily year by year a number of large, strongly-constructed, powerfully armed men-of-war, mounting 60,70 and 80 guns. These vessels were specially adapted for passing in and out of the shallow waters and were built for strength rather than for speed. Again, the part taken in the war by the light, swift-sailing English frigates led to a large flotilla of these vessels being built, so useful for scouting purposes and for preying upon the enemy's commerce. The supply and training of seamen was also dealt with, and the whole system of pay and of prize-money revised and reorganised. It was a great and vitally necessary task, and subsequent events were to show how admirably it had been carried out.
No one knew better than John de Witt that peace was the chief interest of the United Provinces, but his lot was cast in troubled times, and he was one of those prescient statesmen who perceive that meekness in diplomacy and willingness to submit to injury do not promote the cause of peace or further the true interests of any country.
The conquests of France in the southern Netherlands caused great anxiety to the Dutch; and the high-handed action of French pirates in searching and seizing Dutch merchantmen in the Mediterranean aroused much indignation. The States, acting on De Witt's advice, replied by sending a squadron under De Ruyter to put a stop to these proceedings. The Dutch admiral took vigorous action and captured some French freebooters. The French government thereupon forbade Dutch vessels to enter French harbours. The Dutch replied by a similar embargo and threatened to blockade the French coast. This threat had the desired effect, and an accommodation was reached. The peace of the Pyrenees in 1659, by which the French retained a large part of their conquests in Flanders, Hainault and Namur, while the English acquired possession of Dunkirk, was disquieting. For the relations with England, despite the goodwill of the Protector, were far from satisfactory. The trade interests of the two republics clashed at so many points that a resumption of hostilities was with difficulty prevented. More especially was this the case after the outbreak of war with Portugal in November, 1657.
The Dutch accused the Portuguese government of active connivance with the successful revolt of the Brazilian colonists against Dutch rule. What was once Dutch Brazil was now claimed by the Lisbon government as a Portuguese possession, and De Witt demanded an indemnity. As this was not conceded, a squadron under Obdam, November, 1657, blockaded the Portuguese coast, while another under De Ruyter made many seizures of merchant vessels. Cromwell was disposed to intervene, but his death on September 3,1658, removed any fears of English action. Meanwhile the Dutch captured Ceylon and Macassar and practically cut off Portuguese intercourse with the East Indies. At last in August, 1661, a treaty was signed by which the Dutch abandoned all territorial claims in Brazil, but were granted freedom of trade and an indemnity of 8,000,000 fl. to be paid in sixteen years, and, what was more valuable, they retained possession of their conquests in the East.
The protracted dispute with Portugal was however of quite subordinate importance to the interest of the Dutch in the complications of the so-called Northern War. On the abdication of Christina in 1654, Charles X Gustavus had succeeded to the Swedish throne. The new king was fired with the ambition of following in the footsteps of Gustavus Adolphus, and of rendering Sweden supreme in the Baltic by the subjection of Poland and Denmark. Charles was a man of great force of character and warlike energy, and he lost no time in attempting to put his schemes of conquest into execution. Having secured the alliance of the Great Elector, anxious also to aggrandise himself in Polish Prussia, the Swedish king declared war against Poland, and in the early summer of 1656 laid siege to Danzig. But the importance of the Baltic trade to Holland was very great and Danzig was the corn emporium of the Baltic. Under pressure therefore of the Amsterdam merchants the States-General despatched (July) a fleet of forty-two ships under Obdam van Wassenaer through the Sound, which raised the siege of Danzig and with Polish consent left a garrison in the town. Thus checked, the Swedish king at Elbing (September, 1656) renewed amicable relations with the republic, and Danzig was declared a neutral port. At the same time a defensive alliance was concluded between the States and Denmark. It was obvious from, this that the Dutch were hostile to Swedish pretensions and determined to resist them. De Witt was anxious to preserve peace, but he had against him all the influence of Amsterdam, and that of the able diplomatist, Van Beuningen, who after being special envoy of the States at Stockholm had now been sent to Copenhagen. Van Beuningen held that, whatever the risks of intervention on the part of the States, the control of the Sound must not fall into the hands of Sweden. The emergency came sooner than was expected.
Brandenburg having changed sides, the Swedes were expelled from Poland; and Frederick III of Denmark, despite the advice of De Witt, seized the opportunity to declare war on Sweden. Although it was the depth of winter Charles Gustavus lost no time in attacking Denmark. He quickly drove the Danes from Schonen and Funen and invaded Seeland. Frederick was compelled at Roeskilde (February, 1658) to accept the terms of the conqueror. Denmark became virtually a Swedish dependency, and undertook to close the Sound to all foreign ships. Involved as the republic was in disputes at this time with both France and England, and engaged in war with Portugal, De Witt would have been content to maintain a watchful attitude in regard to Scandinavian matters and to strive by diplomacy to secure from Sweden a recognition of Dutch rights. But his hand was forced by Van Beuningen, who went so far as to urge the Danish king to rely on his defensive alliance with the republic and to break the treaty of Roeskilde. Charles Gustavus promptly invaded Denmark, drove the Danish fleet from the sea, placed strong garrisons at Elsinore and Kronborg, and laid siege to Copenhagen. Van Beuningen had proudly asserted that "the oaken keys of the Sound lay in the docks of Amsterdam," and his boast was no empty one. At the beginning of October a force of thirty-five vessels under Obdam carrying 4000 troops sailed for the Sound with orders to destroy the Swedish fleet, and to raise the siege of Copenhagen. On November 8 Obdam encountered the Swedes in the entrance to the Baltic. The Swedish admiral Wrangel had forty-five ships under his command, and the battle was obstinate and bloody. Obdam carried out his instructions. Only a remnant of the Swedish fleet found refuge in the harbour of Landskrona, but the Dutch also suffered severely. The two vice-admirals, Witte de With and Floriszoon, were killed, and Obdam himself narrowly escaped capture, but Copenhagen was freed from naval blockade.
Charles Gustavus however held military possession of a large part of Denmark, and in the spring began to press the attack on the capital from the land side. As both England and France showed a disposition to interfere in the conflict, the States-General now acted with unexpected vigour, recognising that this question to them was vital. An imposing force of seventy-five warships, carrying 12,000 troops and mounting 3000 guns, was despatched in May, 1659, under De Ruyter to the Baltic. Negotiations for peace between the Scandinavian powers under the mediation of France, England and the United Provinces, were now set on foot and dragged on through the summer. But neither Charles Gustavus nor Frederick could be brought to agree to the terms proposed, and the former in the autumn again threatened Copenhagen. In these circumstances De Ruyter was ordered to expel the Swedes from Funen. On November 24 the town of Nyborg was taken by storm and the whole Swedish force compelled to surrender. De Ruyter was now supreme in the Baltic and closely blockaded the Swedish ports. The spirit of Charles Gustavus was broken by these disasters; he died on February 20, 1660. Peace was now concluded at Oliva on conditions favourable to Sweden, but securing for the Dutch the free passage of the Sound. The policy of De Witt was at once firm and conciliatory. Without arousing the active opposition of England and France, he by strong-handed action at the decisive moment succeeded in maintaining that balance of power in the Baltic which was essential in the interest of Dutch trade. The republic under his skilful leadership undoubtedly gained during the northern wars fresh weight and consideration in the Councils of Europe.
The peace of the Pyrenees, followed by the peace of Oliva and the settlement with Portugal, seemed to open out to the United Provinces a period of rest and recuperation, but probably no one knew better than the council-pensionary that outward appearances were deceptive. In the spring of 1660 a bloodless revolution had been accomplished in England, and Charles II was restored to the throne. The hostility of De Witt and of the States party to the house of Stuart had been marked. It happened that Charles was at Breda when he received the invitation recalling him to England. The position was a difficult one, but the council-pensionary at once saw, with his usual perspicacity, that there was but one course to pursue. Acting under his advice, every possible step was taken by the States-General and the Estates of Holland to propitiate the prince, who from being a forlorn exile had suddenly become a powerful king. Immense sums were spent upon giving him a magnificent reception at the Hague; and, when he set sail from Scheveningen, deputations from the States-General and the Estates of Holland attended in state his embarkation and lavish promises of friendship were exchanged. It was significant, however, that Charles handed to the council-pensionary a declaration commending to the care of their High Mightinesses "the Princess my sister and the Prince of Orange my nephew, persons who are extremely dear to me." He had previously expressed the same wish to De Witt privately; and compliance with it, i.e. the annulling of the Act of Exclusion, was inevitable. But all the actors in this comedy were playing a part. Charles was not deceived by all this subservience, and, continuing to entertain a bitter grudge against De Witt and his party, only waited his time to repay their enmity in kind. De Witt on his side, though in his anxiety to conciliate the new royalist government he consented to deliver up three regicides who were refugees in Holland (an act justly blamed), refused to restore the Prince of Orange to any of the ancient dignities and offices of his forefathers. Acting however on his advice, the Estates of Holland passed a unanimous resolution declaring William a ward of the Estates and voting a sum of money for his maintenance and education.
Very shortly after this momentous change in the government of England, Cardinal Mazarin died (March, 1661); and the youthful Louis XIV took the reins of power into his own hands. Outwardly all seemed well in the relations between France and the republic, and in point of fact an offensive and defensive alliance for twenty-five years was concluded between them on April 27,1662. Later in the same year Count D'Estrades, formerly ambassador in the time of Frederick Henry, resumed his old post. The relations between him and De Witt were personally of the friendliest character, but the conciliatory attitude of D'Estrades did not deceive the far-sighted council-pensionary, who was seriously disquieted as to the political aims of France in the southern Netherlands.
By the treaty of the Pyrenees, 1659, the French had already acquired a large slice of territory in Flanders and Artois. They had since obtained Dunkirk by purchase from Charles II. Moreover Louis XIV had married the eldest daughter of Philip IV, whose only son was a weakly boy. It is true that Maria Theresa, on her marriage, had renounced all claims to the Spanish succession. But a large dowry had been settled upon her, and by the treaty the renunciation was contingent upon its payment. The dowry had not been paid nor was there any prospect of the Spanish treasury being able to find the money. Besides it was no secret that Louis claimed the succession to Brabant for his wife and certain other portions of the Netherlands under what was called the Law of Devolution. By this law the female child of a first wife was the heir in preference to the male child of a later marriage. The Dutch dreaded the approach of the French military power to their frontiers, and yet the decrepitude of Spain seemed to render it inevitable. There appeared to De Witt to be only two solutions of the difficulty. Either what was styled "the cantonment" of the southern Netherlands, i.e. their being formed into a self-governing republic under Dutch protection guaranteed by a French alliance, or the division of the Belgic provinces between the two powers. The latter proposal, however, had two great disadvantages: in the first place it gave to France and the Republic the undesirable common frontier; in the second place Amsterdam was resolved that Antwerp should not be erected into a dangerous rival. The last objection proved insuperable; and, although De Witt had many confidential discussions with D'Estrades, in which the French envoy was careful not to commit himself to any disclosure of the real intentions of his government, no settlement of any kind had been arrived at, when the threatening state of relations with England threw all other questions into the background.
The accession of Charles II placed upon the throne of England a man who had no goodwill to Holland and still less to the council-pensionary, and who, like all the Stewart kings, had a keen interest in naval and maritime matters. The Navigation Act, far from being repealed, was vigorously enforced, as were the English claims to the sovereignty of the narrow seas. The grievances of the English East India Company against its Dutch rival with regard to the seizure of certain ships and especially as to the possession of a small island named Poeloe-Rum in the Moluccas led to a growing feeling of bitterness and hostility. A special embassy, headed by De Witt's cousin, Beverweert, was sent to London in the autumn of 1660 to try to bring about a friendly understanding, but was fruitless. At the same time George Downing, a skilful intriguer and adventurer, who after serving Cromwell had succeeded in gaining the confidence of the royal government, had been sent as ambassador to the Hague, where he worked underhand to exacerbate the disputes and to prevent a settlement of the differences between the two peoples. The position and treatment of the Prince of Orange had likewise been a source of difficulty and even of danger to the supremacy of the States party. There arose a general movement among the provinces, headed by Gelderland and Zeeland, to nominate William captain-and admiral-general of the Union and stadholder. The lack of leadership in the Orangist party, and the hostility between the two princesses, rendered, however, any concentrated action impossible. De Witt, with his usual adroitness, gained the ear of the princess royal, who accepted the proposal that the Estates of Holland should undertake the education of the prince, and even consented that De Witt himself and his wife's uncle, De Graef, should superintend the prince's studies. This arranged, Mary, for the first time since her marriage, paid a visit to her native land, being desirous to consult her brother on various subjects. Unfortunately she died of small-pox in January, 1661, having nominated Charles as her son's guardian. This nomination did not tend to smooth matters between the two countries.
There was a powerful war party in England, supported by the Duke of York. It was at his instigation that a strong-handed act took place which aroused intense indignation in Holland. A company called "The Royal African Company" had been formed in which the duke had a large interest. A fleet fitted out by this company under the command of Admiral Holmes seized, in February, 1664, a portion of the coast of Guinea on which the Dutch had settlements. Strong protests meeting with nothing but evasive replies, in all secrecy a squadron was got ready to sail under De Ruyter, nominally to the Mediterranean. Dilatory negotiations were in the meantime being conducted by Beverweert in London, and by Downing at the Hague in regard to this and other grievances, but without any approach to a settlement. Downing in fact was surreptitiously doing his best not to reconcile, but to aggravate differences. Matters were brought to a head by the news that an English fleet had crossed the Atlantic and had taken possession of the Dutch colony of New Netherland (September), and that Holmes had made himself master of Cabo Corso on the West African coast, and was threatening further conquests. This was too much. De Ruyter received orders to proceed to Guinea, where he speedily drove out the English intruders and reoccupied the lost settlements. During the winter both powers prepared for a struggle for maritime supremacy which had become inevitable; and at last war was declared by England (March 4, 1665).
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THE LAST YEARS OF DE WITT'S ADMINISTRATION, 1665-1672. THE SECOND ENGLISH WAR. THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE. THE FRENCH INVASION
THE declaration of war in March, 1665, found the Dutch navy, thanks to the prescience and personal care of the council-pensionary, far better prepared for a struggle with the superior resources of its English rival than was the case in 1654. John de Witt, aided by his brother Cornelis, had supplied the lack of an admiral-general by urging the various Admiralty Boards to push on the building of vessels in size, construction and armaments able to contend on equal terms with the English men-of-war. He had, moreover, with his usual industry taken great pains to study the details of admiralty-administration and naval science; and now, in company with the Commissioners of the States-General, he visited all the ports and dockyards and saw that every available ship was got ready for immediate service, provided with seasoned crews, and with ample stores and equipment. The English on their side were equally ready for the encounter. After the death of Cromwell the fleet had been neglected, but during the five years that had passed since the Restoration steps had been taken to bring it to an even greater strength and efficiency than before. Whatever may have been the faults of the Stewart kings, neglect of the navy could not be laid to their charge. One of the first steps of Charles II was to appoint his brother James, Duke of York, to the post of Lord-High-Admiral; and James was unremitting in his attention to his duties, and a most capable naval administrator and leader, while Charles himself never ceased during his reign to take a keen interest in naval matters. In his case, as previously in the case of his father, it was lack of the necessary financial means that alone prevented him from creating an English fleet that would be capable of asserting that "sovereignty in the narrow seas," which was the traditional claim of the English monarchy.
The English were ready before the Dutch, who were hampered in their preparations by having five distinct Boards of Admiralty. The Duke of York put to sea with a fleet of 100 ships at the end of April and, cruising off the coast of Holland, cut off the main Dutch fleet in the Texel from the Zeeland contingent. It was unfortunate for Holland that Michael Adriansz de Ruyter, one of the greatest of seamen, was at this time still in the Mediterranean Obdam, to whom the chief command was given, waited until a storm drove the enemy to their harbours. He then united all the Dutch squadrons and crossing to Southwold Bay found the English fleet ready for battle. After some manoeuvring the action was joined on June 13, and after a bloody fight ended most disastrously for the Dutch. The flag-ships in the course of the struggle became closely engaged, with the result that Obdam's vessel suddenly blew up, while that of the English admiral was seriously damaged and he himself wounded. The Dutch line had already been broken, and the fate of their commander decided the issue. The Dutch in great confusion sought the shelter of their shoals, but their habit of firing at the masts and rigging had so crippled their opponents that a vigorous pursuit was impossible. Nevertheless the English had gained at the first encounter a decided victory. Sixteen Dutch ships were sunk or destroyed, nine captured, and at least 2000 men were killed, including three admirals, and as many more taken prisoners. The English had but one vessel sunk, and their casualties did not amount to more than a third of the Dutch losses. The consternation and anger in Holland was great. Jan Evertsen, the second-in-command, and a number of the captains were tried by court-martial; and the reorganisation of the fleet was entrusted to Cornells Tromp, who, encouraged and aided by the council-pensionary, set himself with great energy to the task.
The English meanwhile were masters of the sea, though administrative shortcomings, defects of victualling and shortage of men prevented them from taking full advantage of their success. Early in August, however, a fleet under the Earl of Sandwich attempted to capture a number of Dutch East Indiamen, who had sailed round the north of Scotland. The East Indiamen took refuge in the neutral port of Bergen. Here Sandwich ventured to attack them but was driven off by the forts. While he was thus engaged in the north the Channel was left free; and De Ruyter with his squadron seized the opportunity to return to home-waters without opposition. His arrival was of the greatest value to the Dutch, and he was with universal approval appointed to succeed Obdam as lieutenant-admiral of Holland, and was given the supreme command on the sea. Tromp, angry at being superseded, was with difficulty induced to serve under the new chief, but he had to yield to the force of public opinion. De Ruyter at once gave proof of his skill by bringing back safely the East Indiamen from Bergen, though a severe storm caused some losses, both to the fleet and the convoy. The damage was however by the energy of De Witt and the admiral quickly repaired; and De Ruyter again sailed out at the beginning of October to seek the English fleet. He cruised in the Channel and off the mouth of the Thames, but no enemy vessels were to be seen; and at the end of the month fresh storms brought the naval campaign of 1665 to a close, on the whole to the advantage of the English.
Nor were the misfortunes of the Dutch confined to maritime warfare. Between England and Holland indeed the war was entirely a sea affair, neither of them possessing an army strong enough to land on the enemy's coast with any hope of success; but the United Provinces were particularly vulnerable on their eastern frontier, and Charles II concluded an alliance with the Bishop of Muenster, who had a grievance against the States on account of a disputed border-territory, the lordship of Borkelo. Subsidised by England, the bishop accordingly at the head of 18,000 men (September, 1665) overran a considerable part of Drente and Overyssel and laid it waste. There was at first no organised force to oppose him. It had been the policy of Holland to cut down the army, and the other provinces were not unwilling to follow her example. No field-marshal had been appointed to succeed Brederode; there was no army of the Union under a captain-general, but seven small provincial armies without a military head. Some thousands of fresh troops were now raised and munitions of war collected, but to whom should the chief command be given? William Frederick was dead (October 31, 1664) and had been succeeded by his youthful son, Henry Casimir, in the Stadholderate of Friesland. Joan Maurice of Nassau had withdrawn from the Netherlands and was Governor of Cleves in the service of Brandenburg. He was however persuaded to place himself at the head of the army, though complaining bitterly of the inadequacy of the forces placed at his disposal. De Witt, however, had not been idle. He secured the assistance of Brunswick-Lueneburg, and an army of 12,000 Brunswickers under the command of George Frederick von Waldeck attacked Muenster; while a force of 6000 French likewise, under the terms of the treaty of 1662, advanced to the help of the Dutch. Threatened also by Brandenburg, the bishop was compelled to withdraw his troops for home defence and in April, 1666, was glad to conclude peace with the States.
French naval co-operation against England was also promised; and war was actually declared by Louis XIV in the early spring of 1666. The real cause of this strong action was due to other motives than enmity to England. The death of Philip IV of Spain in September, 1665, had brought nearer the prospect of there being no heir-male to the vast Spanish monarchy. The French Queen, Maria Theresa, was the eldest child of Philip; and, though on her marriage she had renounced her claim to the Spanish throne, it was well known that Louis intended to insist upon her rights, particularly in regard to the Spanish Netherlands. He was afraid that the States, always suspicious of his ambitious projects, might be tempted to come to terms with England on the basis of a defensive alliance against French aggression in Flanders and Brabant, for both powers were averse to seeing Antwerp in French hands. To avert this danger Louis determined to take part in the war on the side of the Dutch. The move however was diplomatic rather than serious, for the French admiral, de Beaufort, never sailed into the North Sea or effected a junction with the Dutch fleet. Nevertheless, as will be seen, his presence in the Atlantic exercised an important effect upon the naval campaign of 1666.
The English fleet was not ready until the beginning of June. The ravages of the plague and financial difficulties had caused delay; and the fleet only numbered about eighty sail, including a squadron which had been recalled from the Mediterranean. The "Generals-at-Sea," as they were called, were Monk and Rupert. They began by committing the great blunder of dividing their force. Rupert was detached with twenty ships to keep watch over de Beaufort, a diversion which had serious consequences for the English. The Dutch fleet, consisting of seventy-two men-of-war with twelve frigates, was the most powerful that the Admiralties had ever sent to sea, not in numbers but in the quality of the ships. De Witt himself had supervised the preparations and had seen that the equipment was complete in every respect. De Ruyter was in supreme command and led the van, Cornelis Evertsen the centre, Cornelis Tromp the rear. On June 11 the English fleet under Monk was sighted between the North Foreland and Dunkirk, and the famous Four Days' Battle was begun. The English had only fifty-four ships, but having the weather gauge Monk attacked Tromp's squadron with his whole force; nor was it till later in the day that De Ruyter and Evertsen were able to come to the relief of their colleague. Night put an end to an indecisive contest, in which both sides lost heavily. The next day Monk renewed the attack, at first with some success; but, De Ruyter having received a reinforcement of sixteen ships, the weight of numbers told and Monk was forced to retreat. On the third morning De Ruyter pursued his advantage, but the English admiral conducted his retirement in a most masterly manner, his rear squadron covering the main body and fighting stubbornly. Several ships, however, including the flag-ship of Vice-Admiral Ayscue, had to be abandoned and were either destroyed or captured by the Dutch. At the end of the day Monk had only twenty-eight ships left fit for service. Very opportunely he was now rejoined by Rupert's squadron and other reinforcements; and on the fourth morning the two fleets confronted one another in almost equal numbers, each having some sixty vessels. Once more therefore the desperate struggle was resumed and with initial advantage to the English. Rupert forced his way through the Dutch fleet, which was for awhile divided. But the English habit of firing at the hulls, though it did most damage, was not so effective as the Dutch system of aiming at the masts and rigging in crippling the freedom of tacking and manoeuvring; and Monk and Rupert were unable to prevent De Ruyter from re-uniting his whole force, and bearing down with it upon the enemy. The English were forced to retreat again, leaving several of their "lamed" vessels behind. They lost in all ten ships besides fireships, something like 3000 killed and wounded and 2500 prisoners. Vice-Admiral Berkeley was killed, Vice-Admiral Ayscue taken prisoner. Nor were the Dutch much better off. Four or five of their ships were sunk, a number severely damaged, and their casualty list was probably as large as that of their foes. Nevertheless the victory was undoubtedly theirs; and the fleet on its return was greeted with public rejoicings in Holland and Zeeland. The triumph was of short duration.
By vigorous efforts on both sides the damaged fleets were rapidly repaired. De Ruyter was the first to put to sea (July 9) with some ninety ships; three weeks later Monk and Rupert left the Thames with an equal force. The encounter took place on August 4. It ended in a decisive English victory after some fierce and obstinate fighting. The Dutch van, after losing its two admirals, Evertsen and De Vries, gave way. Monk and Rupert then attacked with a superior force the centre under De Ruyter himself, who to save his fleet from destruction was compelled to take refuge behind the Dutch shoals. Meanwhile the squadron under Tromp, driving before it the rear squadron of the English, had become separated and unable to come to De Ruyter's assistance. For this abandonment he was bitterly reproached by De Ruyter and accused of desertion. The quarrel necessitated Tromp's being deprived of his command, as the States-General could not afford to lose the services of the admiral-in-chief.
For a time the English were now masters of the narrow seas, and, cruising along the Dutch coast, destroyed a great number of Dutch merchantmen, made some rich prizes and even landed on the island of Terschelling, which was pillaged. Lack of supplies at length compelled them to withdraw for the purpose of revictualling. On this De Ruyter, accompanied by Cornelis de Witt as special commissioner, sailed out in the hopes of effecting a junction with De Beaufort. Rupert also put to sea again, but storms prevented a meeting between the fleets and sickness also seriously interfered with their efficiency. De Ruyter himself fell ill; and, though John de Witt was himself with the fleet, no further operations were attempted. Both sides had become weary and exhausted and anxious for peace.
To De Witt the war had been from the outset distasteful; and he had been much disturbed by the constant intrigues of the Orangist party to undermine his position. He was aware that in this hour of the country's need the eyes of a considerable part of the people, even in Holland, were more and more directed to the young prince. There was a magic in his name, which invested the untried boy with the reflected glory of his ancestor's great deeds. The council-pensionary, a past-master in the arts of expediency, was driven to avert the danger which threatened the supremacy of the States party, by proposing to the Princess Amalia that the province of Holland should not only charge themselves with William's education, but should adopt him as "a Child of State." It was a short-sighted device for, as the princess shrewdly saw, this exceptional position assigned to her grandson must ensure, when he grew to man's estate, the reversion of his ancestral dignities. She willingly assented; and in April, 1666, the Estates of Holland appointed a Commission, of which John de Witt was himself the head, which was entrusted with the religious and political instruction of the prince. A few months later De Witt was to discover that Orangist intrigues were being still clandestinely carried on. An officer of French extraction, the lord of Buat, though an Orange partisan, had been employed by the pensionary to make tentative proposals of peace to the English court through Lord Arlington. In August a packet of intercepted letters showed that Buat had played him false and was seeking to compass his overthrow. Buat was brought to trial, condemned to death, and executed on October 11.
This strong action by the council-pensionary did not prevent, however, the preliminaries of a peaceful settlement being discussed both at the Hague and in London during the winter months, with the result that a conference of delegates representing Great Britain, the United Provinces and France, met at Breda in May, 1667, to discuss the terms of peace. But the negotiations did not progress. The English envoys raised afresh all the old questions, while the Dutch were not ready to concede anything unless the Navigation Act was largely modified. In these circumstances De Witt determined by bold action to try to expedite the negotiations in a sense favourable to Holland. He knew that the English were unprepared. Charles II, in opposition to the advice of Rupert, Monk and the Duke of York, had refused to spend money in preparation for a campaign at sea, which he felt confident would never take place. The ravages of the plague and of the Great Fire of London had made the year 1666 one of the darkest in English history and had caused the heavy financial drain and losses of the war to be more severely felt. There was widespread discontent in the country; and the king in sore financial distress was immovable in his resolve that no steps should be taken for refitting the fleet. The ships remained laid up in port, although the Dutch despatched in April a squadron to the Firth of Forth and dominated the Channel.
In deep secrecy De Witt now made preparations for the despatch of a great fleet with orders to sail up the estuary of the Thames and attack the English ships in harbour. De Ruyter, accompanied by Cornelis de Witt, left the Texel on June 14, at the head of a fleet numbering more than eighty vessels. A squadron under Admiral Van Ghent sailed up the Thames on June 19, followed by the main body. Sheerness was captured, and on the 22nd De Ruyter determined to force his way up the Medway. The river had been blocked by drawing up a line of ships behind a heavy chain. The Dutch fire-ships broke through the chain and burnt the vessels, and then proceeding upwards burnt, scuttled or captured some sixteen vessels, among the latter the flag-ship, Royal Charles. The sound of the Dutch guns was heard in London and for a time panic reigned. But the narrowness of the river and the prompt measures that were taken to call out the militia and man the forts prevented any further success. The Dutch fleet withdrew to the Nore and, beyond blocking the mouth of the river, were able to effect no further damage. The blow to English prestige was however irreparable, and the people felt deeply humiliated that short-sightedness and lack of preparation on the part of the government should have exposed them to an insult galling to the national pride. One of its consequences, as had been anticipated by De Witt, was a more conciliatory attitude on the part of the English envoys at Breda. Peace was concluded on July 26, on terms more favourable than the Dutch could have expected. The Navigation Act was modified, various commercial advantages were conceded and Poeloe-Rum was retained. On the other hand, the custom of the striking of the flag remained unchanged. It was agreed that the English colony of Surinam, which had been captured in March, 1667, by a Zeeland squadron should be kept in exchange for New York, an exchange advantageous to both parties.
By the treaty of Breda the Dutch republic attained the summit of its greatness, and the supremacy of De Witt appeared to be not only secure but unassailable. Yet events were preparing which were destined to undermine the prosperity of Holland and the position of the statesman to whom in so large a measure that prosperity was due. France under the absolute rule of Louis XIV had become by far the most powerful State in Europe, and the king was bent upon ambitious and aggressive projects. It has already been explained that after the death of Philip IV of Spain he claimed for his queen, Maria Theresa, the succession, by the so-called "law of devolution," to a large part of the southern Netherlands. He now determined that the hour had come for enforcing his claim. In May, 1667, before the treaty of Breda had been signed, a French army of 50,000 men crossed the Belgic frontier. Castel-Rodrigo, the Spanish governor, had no force at his disposal for resisting so formidable an invasion; fortress after fortress fell into French hands; and Flanders, Brabant and Hainault were speedily overrun. This rapid advance towards their borders caused no small consternation in Holland, and De Witt's efforts to reach an understanding with King Louis proved unavailing. The States were not in a position to attempt an armed intervention, and the once formidable Spanish power was now feeble and decrepit. The only hope lay in the formation of a coalition. De Witt therefore turned to England and Sweden for help.
The anti-French party in Sweden was then predominant; and Dohna, the Swedish ambassador at the Hague, was ordered to go to London, there to further the efforts of the newly appointed Dutch envoy, John Meerman, for the formation of a coalition to check French aggrandisement. They had difficulties to overcome. The English were sore at the results of the peace of Breda. Charles disliked the Dutch and was personally indebted to Louis XIV for many favours. But the feeling in England was strongly averse to French aggression towards Antwerp. The fall of Clarendon from power at this time and the accession of Arlington, who was son-in-law to Beverweert, turned the scale in favour of the proposals of De Witt; and Charles found himself obliged to yield. Sir William Temple, whose residence as English minister at Brussels had convinced him of the gravity of the French menace, was ordered to go to the Hague to confer personally with the council-pensionary and then to proceed to London. His mission was most promptly and skilfully carried out. His persuasiveness overcame all obstacles. After a brief stay in London he returned to the Hague, January 17, 1668. Even the proverbial slowness of the complicated machinery of the Dutch government did not hinder him from carrying out his mission with almost miraculous rapidity. Having first secured the full support of De Witt to his proposals, he next, with the aid of the council-pensionary, pressed the urgency of the case upon the States-General with such convincing arguments that the treaty between England and the United Provinces was signed on January 23. Three days afterwards Dohna was able to announce the adhesion of the Swedish government; and on January 26, the Triple Alliance was an accomplished fact. It was essentially a defensive alliance, and its main object was to offer mediation between France and Spain in order to moderate the French claims and to back up their mediation, if necessity should arise, by joint action. As a preliminary precaution, a strong force was promptly placed under the command of Joan Maurice of Nassau, and a fleet of forty-eight ships was fitted out.
These steps had their effect. Louis, suddenly confronted by this formidable coalition, preferred to accept mediation, though it involved his waiving a portion of his pretensions. Knowing well that the alliance was a very unstable one, for the consent of Charles was given under duress and the aims of Sweden were mercenary, he foresaw that by biding his time, he could have ample revenge later upon the republic of traders who had ventured to thwart him. At a meeting at St Germain-en-Laye between the French Foreign Minister, Lionne, and the Dutch and English ambassadors, Van Beuningen and Trevor, preliminaries were settled on April 15. These were confirmed by a conference of representatives of all the interested States at Aix-la-Chapelle (May 2), in which Temple took an active part. Louis gave up Franche-Comte, which he had conquered, but retained Mons, Courtrai, Tournai, Lille, Charleroi and other frontier towns. This treaty, following on that of Breda, was the crowning triumph of De Witt's administration, for it had given to the Dutch Republic a decisive voice in the Councils of the Great Powers of Europe.
But, though he had proved himself so successful in the fields of diplomacy and statesmanship, the position of the council-pensionary had, during the course of the English war, become distinctly weaker. De Witt's authoritative ways, his practical monopoly of power, and his bestowal of so many posts upon his relatives and friends, aroused considerable jealousy and irritation. Cabals began to be formed against him and old supporters to fall away. He lost the help of Van Beverningh, who resigned the office of Treasurer-General, and he managed to estrange Van Beuningen, who had much influence in Amsterdam. The Bickers and De Graeffs were no longer supreme in that city, where a new party under the leadership of Gillis Valckenier had acceded to power. This party, with which Van Beuningen now associated himself, was at present rather anti-De Witt than pro-Orange. Valckenier and Beuningen became in succession burgomasters; and De Witt's friend, Pieter de Groot, had to resign the office of pensionary. In the Estates of Holland, therefore, De Witt had to face opposition, one of the leaders being the able Pensionary of Haarlem, Caspar Fagel. And all this time he had ever before his eyes the fact that the Prince of Orange could not much longer remain "the Child of State"; and that, when he passed out of the tutelage of the Estates of Holland, his future position would have to be settled. De Witt had himself devoted much personal care to William's instruction; and the prince had submitted patiently and apparently with contentment to the restrictions with which he was surrounded. Physically weakly, his health was at all times delicate, but his intelligence was remarkable and his will-power extraordinary. Cold and impenetrable in manner and expression, unbending in his haughty aloofness, he knew how with perfect courtesy to keep his own counsel and to refrain from giving utterance to an unguarded word. But behind this chilling and sphinx-like exterior was a mind of singular precocity, already filled with deep-laid schemes and plans for the future, confident that his opportunity would come, and preparing when the hour struck to seize it. One can well imagine how anxiously in their many personal interviews the council-pensionary must have tried to read what was passing in his pupil's inmost thoughts, only to be baffled.
So early as August, 1667, steps had been taken by the Estates of Holland to forestall the danger that threatened. On the proposal of Van Beuningen and Valckenier, who had not yet detached themselves from the States party, an edict was passed to which, somewhat infelicitously, the name of the "Eternal Edict" was given. It abolished in Holland the office of stadholder for ever and affirmed the right of the town-corporations (vroedschappen) to elect their own magistrates. It was further resolved to invite the other provinces to declare that no stadholder could hold either the captain-or admiral-generalship of the Union. This resolution was styled the "Concept of Harmony." Deputations were sent to urge the acceptation of the Concept; and De Witt himself used his utmost power of persuasion to bring about a general agreement. He was successful in Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel. But Zeeland, Friesland and Groningen, where the Orangists were strong, refused to give their assent; and the approval of the States-General was only carried by a bare majority. De Witt himself doubtless knew that the erection of this paper barrier against the inherited influence of one bearing the honoured title of Prince of Orange was of little real value. It is reported that Vivien, the Pensionary of Dordrecht, De Witt's cousin, stuck his pen-knife into a copy of the Eternal Edict as it lay on the table before him, and in reply to a remonstrance said: "I was only trying what steel can do against parchment."
The second period of five years during which De Witt had held the post of council-pensionary was now drawing to an end. For a decade he had wielded a power which had given to him almost supreme authority in the republic, especially in the control of foreign affairs. But all the time he had lived the life of a simple burgher, plainly dressed, occupying the same modest dwelling-house, keeping only a single manservant. He was devotedly attached to his wife and children, and loved to spend the hours he could spare from public affairs in the domestic circle. The death of Wendela on July 1, 1668, was a great blow to him and damped the satisfaction which must have filled him at the manner in which he was reelected at the end of that month to enter upon his third period of office. In recognition of his great services his salary of 6000 guilders was doubled, and a gratuity of 45,000 guilders was voted to him, to which the nobles added a further sum of 15,000 guilders. De Witt again obtained an Act of Indemnity from the Estates of Holland and likewise the promise of a judicial post on his retirement.
The Prince of Orange had received the announcement of the passing of the Eternal Edict without showing the slightest emotion, or making any protest. He now, two months after the re-election of the council-pensionary, took the first step towards self-assertion. Under cover of a visit to his ancestral town of Breda, William made his way to Middelburg, where the Estates of Zeeland were assembled. Being now eighteen years of age he claimed his inherited right to take his seat as "first noble," and after being duly installed he appointed his relative, Seigneur van Odijk, to act as his deputy. This done, he quietly returned to the Hague, having given a clear indication of the course he meant to pursue.
The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle had left a deep feeling of humiliation and rancour in the heart of Louis XIV; and he was resolved to leave no stone unturned to wreak his vengeance on Holland and its council-pensionary. The Triple Alliance was plainly an ill-assorted combination. Charles II cared nothing about the fate of the Spanish Netherlands, and there was a strong party in England which hated the Dutch and wished to wipe out the memory of Chatham and to upset the treaty of Breda. Grievances about the settlement of questions concerning the East Indies and Surinam were raked up. Both Van Beuningen in London and Pieter de Groot in Paris sent warnings that the States should be prepared for war and at an early date, but the council-pensionary pinned his faith on Temple and the Alliance, and kept his eyes shut to the imminent danger. Meanwhile Louis had been bribing freely both in England and Sweden, and he had no difficulty in detaching the latter power from the Alliance. To England he sent over the beautiful Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans, Charles' favourite sister, on a secret mission to the king, and she was speedily successful. The offer of an annual payment of 3,000,000 francs and the possession of Walcheren, which commanded the entrance to the Scheldt, effected their purpose. A secret treaty was signed at Dover on December 31, 1670, between Louis and Charles, by which the latter agreed, on being called upon to do so, to declare war upon Holland in conjunction with the French.
Meanwhile De Witt was so absorbed in domestic politics and in the maintenance of the burgher-aristocratic party in power, that he seemed to have lost his usual statesmanlike acumen. He never ceased to work for the general acceptance of the Concept of Harmony. At last the three recalcitrant provinces (Friesland, Groningen and Zeeland), when William had reached his twenty-first year, agreed to accept it on condition that the prince were at once admitted to the Council of State. Even now De Witt tried to prevent the prince from having more than an advisory vote, but he was overruled through the opposition of Amsterdam to his views. All this time Louis was preparing his great plan for the crushing of the republic. He succeeded in gaining the promised assistance of England, Muenster and Cologne, and in detaching from the Dutch the Emperor and the Swedes. The finances under Colbert were in a flourishing state, and a splendid army had been equipped by the great war minister, Louvois. It was in vain that Pieter de Groot sent warnings of coming peril. The council-pensionary was deaf, and the States-General still deafer. Temple had left (August, 1670) for a visit to London, and he never returned. For some months there was no resident English ambassador at the Hague. Finally, at the end of the year, Downing arrived, the very man who had done his utmost to bring about the war of 1665. De Witt still placed his hopes in the anti-French views of the English Parliament; but in August, 1671, it was dissolved by the king and was not summoned to meet again for a year and a half. Charles had therefore a free-hand, and the secret treaty of Dover was the result. The reports of De Groot became more and more alarming; and De Witt found it necessary to urge the States to make preparations both by sea and land to resist attack. But he met with a luke-warm response. The fleet indeed was considerably strengthened, but the army was in a miserable state. At no time during the English wars had a powerful army been required, and the lesson taught by the invasion of the Bishop of Muenster had had little effect. The heavy charges of the naval war compelled the States and especially Holland, on whom the chief burden fell, to economise by cutting down the military expenses. Politically also the ruling burgher-regents in Holland had from past experience a wholesome fear lest the power of the sword wielded by another Maurice or William II should again overthrow the civil power. The consequence was that when Charles II declared war on March 28, 1672, and Louis on the following April 6, and a great French army of 120,000 men under Conde, Turenne and Luxemburg marched through Liege to invade the States, while another army of 30,000 men from Muenster and Cologne attacked farther north, all was confusion and panic, for it was felt that there was no possibility of effective resistance. The Bishop of Muenster was eager to take vengeance for his defeat in 1666, and the Elector-Archbishop of Cologne was a Bavarian prince friendly to France. His help was the more valuable, as he was likewise Bishop of Liege, and thus able to offer to the French armies a free passage through his territory.
Not until the storm was actually bursting on them by sea and land at once were the various authorities in the threatened land induced to move in earnest. Confronted by the sudden crisis, De Witt however made the most strenuous efforts to meet it. A fleet of 150 ships was got ready and an army of some 50,000 men, mercenaries of many nationalities, hastily gathered together. It was a force without cohesion, discipline or competent officers. In the peril of the country all eyes were turned towards the Prince of Orange. William was now twenty-one years of age, but by the provisions of the Concept of Harmony his name was not to be proposed as captain-general until he had reached the age of twenty-two. But in the wave of feeling which swept over the country the paper barrier was dashed aside. In the Estates of Holland, which De Witt had so long controlled, and despite his strong opposition, the proposal to confer the post on William for one year was carried. All that the council-pensionary could effect was to surround the exercise of the office with so many restrictions as to deprive the prince of any real authority. These restrictions did not, however, meet the approval of the other provinces, and William himself refused to accept them. De Witt had to give way. William was appointed captain-general for one year (February 25, 1672). It appeared to be an absolutely hopeless task that this utterly inexperienced young man had to face. But the mere fact that once more a Prince of Orange was in command gave new hope. It was a name to conjure with; and the holder of it, young as he was and with no previous military training, faced his task with the calm confidence which comes from conscious power and an inherited aptitude for the leadership of men.
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WAR WITH FRANCE AND ENGLAND. WILLIAM III, STADHOLDER. MURDER OF THE BROTHERS DE WITT, 1672
The advance of the French armies and those of Muenster and Cologne to attack the eastern frontier of the United Provinces met with little serious resistance. Fortress after fortress fell; the line of the Yssel was abandoned. Soon the whole of Gelderland, Overyssel, Drente and Utrecht were in the possession of the enemy. Even the castle of Muiden, but ten miles from Amsterdam, was only saved from capture at the last moment by Joan Maurice throwing himself with a small force within the walls. The Prince of Orange had no alternative but to fall back behind the famous waterline of Holland. He had at his disposal, after leaving garrisons in the fortresses, barely 4000 men as a field-force. With some difficulty the people were persuaded to allow the dykes to be cut, as in the height of the struggle against Spain, and the country to be submerged. Once more behind this expanse of flood, stretching like a gigantic moat from Muiden on the Zuyder Zee to Gorkum on the Maas, Holland alone remained as the last refuge of national resistance to an overwhelming foe. True the islands of Zeeland and Friesland were yet untouched by invasion, but had Holland succumbed to the French armies their resistance would have availed little. At the end of June the aspect of affairs looked very black, and despite the courageous attitude of the young captain-general, and the ceaseless energy with which the council-pensionary worked for the equipment of an adequate fleet, and the provision of ways and means and stores, there seemed to be no ray of hope. Men's hearts failed them for fear, and a panic of despair filled the land.
Had the combined fleets of England and France been able at this moment to obtain a victory at sea and to land an army on the coast, it is indeed difficult to see how utter and complete disaster could have been avoided. Fortunately, however, this was averted. It had been De Witt's hope that De Ruyter might have been able to have struck a blow at the English ships in the Thames and the Medway before they had time to put to sea and effect a junction with the French. But the Zeeland contingent was late and it was the middle of May before the famous admiral, accompanied as in 1667 by Cornelis de Witt as the representative of the States-General, sailed at the head of seventy-five ships in search of the Anglo-French fleet. After delays through contrary winds the encounter took place in Southwold Bay on June 7. The Duke of York was the English admiral-in-chief, D'Estrees the French commander, and they had a united force of ninety ships. The Dutch, who had the wind-gauge, found the hostile squadrons separated from one another. De Ruyter at once took advantage of this. He ordered Vice-Admiral Banckers with the Zeeland squadron to contain the French, while he himself with the rest of his force bore down upon the Duke of York. The battle was contested with the utmost courage and obstinacy on both sides and the losses were heavy. The advantage, however, remained with the Dutch. The English flag-ship, the Royal James, was burnt; and the duke was afterwards three times compelled to shift his flag. Both fleets returned to the home ports to refit; and during the rest of the summer and early autumn no further attack was made on De Ruyter, who with some sixty vessels kept watch and ward along the coasts of Holland and Zeeland. The Dutch admiral had gained his object and no landing was ever attempted.
But the battle of Southwold Bay, though it relieved the immediate naval danger, could do nothing to stay the advancing tide of invasion on land. The situation appeared absolutely desperate; trade was at a standstill; and the rapid fall in the State securities and in the East India Company's stock gave alarming evidence of the state of public opinion. In these circumstances De Witt persuaded the States-General and the Estates of Holland to consent to the sending of two special embassies to Louis, who was now at Doesburg, and to London, to sue for peace. They left the Hague on June 13, only to meet with a humiliating rebuff. Charles II refused to discuss the question apart from France. Pieter de Groot and his colleagues were received at Doesburg with scant courtesy and sent back to the Hague to seek for fuller powers. When they arrived they found the council-pensionary lying on a sick-bed. The country's disasters had been attributed to the De Witts, and the strong feeling against them led to a double attempt at assassination. John de Witt, while walking home at the close of a busy day's work was (June 21) attacked by four assailants and badly wounded. The leader, Jacob van der Graeff, was seized and executed; the others were allowed to escape, it was said by the prince's connivance. A few days later an attack upon Cornells de Witt at Dordrecht likewise failed to attain its object. That such dastardly acts could happen without an outburst of public indignation was ominous of worse things to come. It was a sign that the whole country had turned its back upon the States party and the whole system of government of which for nineteen years John de Witt had been the directing spirit, and had become Orangist. Revolutionary events followed one another with almost bewildering rapidity. On July 2 the Estates of Zeeland appointed William to the office of Stadholder. The Estates of Holland repealed the Eternal Edict on July 3; and on the next day it was resolved on the proposal of Amsterdam to revive the stadholdership with all its former powers and prerogatives in favour of the Prince of Orange. The other provinces followed the lead of Holland and Zeeland; and on July 8 the States-General appointed the young stadholder captain-and admiral-general of the Union. William thus found himself invested with all the offices and even more than the authority that had been possessed by his ancestors. Young and inexperienced as he was, he commanded unbounded confidence, and it was not misplaced.
Meanwhile, despite the strong opposition of Amsterdam and some other towns, the fuller powers asked for by De Groot were granted, and he returned to the camp of Louis to endeavour to obtain more favourable terms of peace. He was unsuccessful. The demands of the French king included concessions of territory to Cologne, to Muenster and to England, and for himself the greater part of the Generality-lands with the great fortresses of Hertogenbosch and Maestricht, a war indemnity of 16,000,000 francs, and complete freedom for Catholic worship. On July 1 De Groot returned to the Hague to make his report. The humiliating terms were rejected unanimously, but it was still hoped that now that the Prince of Orange was at the head of affairs negotiations might be resumed through the mediation of England. William even went so far as to send a special envoy to Charles II, offering large concessions to England, if the king would withdraw from the French alliance. But it was in vain. On the contrary at this very time (July 16) the treaty between Louis and Charles was renewed; and the demands made on behalf of England were scarcely less exorbitant than those put forward by Louis himself—the cession of Sluis, Walcheren, Cadsand, Voorne and Goerce, an indemnity of 25,000,000 francs, the payment of an annual subsidy for the herring fishery, and the striking of the flag. If all the conditions made by the two kings were agreed to, the sovereignty of the remnants of the once powerful United Provinces, impoverished and despoiled, was offered to the prince. He rejected it with scorn. When the Estates of Holland on the return of De Groot asked his advice about the French terms, the stadholder replied, "all that stands in the proposal is unacceptable; rather let us be hacked in pieces, than accept such conditions"; and when an English envoy, after expressing King Charles' personal goodwill to his nephew, tried to persuade him to accept the inevitable, he met with an indignant refusal. "But don't you see that the Republic is lost," he is reported to have pleaded. "I know of one sure means of not seeing her downfall," was William's proud reply, "to die in defence of the last ditch."
The firm attitude of the prince gave courage to all; and, whatever might be the case with the more exposed provinces on the eastern and south-eastern frontiers, the Hollanders and Zeelanders were resolved to sacrifice everything rather than yield without a desperate struggle. But the fact that they were reduced to these dire straits roused the popular resentment against the De Witts and the system of government which had for more than two decades been in possession of power. Their wrath was especially directed against the council-pensionary. Pamphlets were distributed broadcast in which he was charged amongst other misdoings with appropriating public funds for his private use. While yet suffering from the effects of his wounds De Witt appeared (July 23) before the Estates and vigorously defended himself. A unanimous vote declared him free from blame.
Cornelis de Witt was, no less than his brother, an object of popular hatred. In the town of Dordrecht where the De Witt influence had been so long supreme his portrait in the Town-hall was torn to pieces by the mob and the head hung on a gallows. On July 24 he was arrested and imprisoned at the Hague on the charge brought against him by a barber named Tichelaer, of being implicated in a plot to assassinate the prince. Tichelaer was well known to be a bad and untrustworthy character. On the unsupported testimony of this man, the Ruwaard, though indignantly denying the accusation, was incarcerated in the Gevangenpoort, to be tried by a commission appointed by the Estates. Great efforts were made by his friends and by his brother to obtain his release; but, as the prince would not interfere, the proceedings had to take their course. John de Witt meanwhile, wishing to forestall a dismissal which he felt to be inevitable, appeared before the Estates on August 4, and in an impressive speech voluntarily tendered his resignation of the post of council-pensionary, asking only for the redemption of the promise made to him that at the close of his tenure of office he should receive a judicial appointment. The resignation was accepted, the request granted, but owing to opposition no vote of thanks was given. Caspar Fagel was appointed council-pensionary in his place.
The enemies of John de Witt were not content with his fall from power. A committee of six judges were empanelled to try his brother Cornelis for his alleged crime. On August 17, to their eternal disgrace, they by a majority vote ordered the prisoner, who was suffering from gout, to be put to the torture. The illustrious victim of their malice endured the rack without flinching, insisting on his absolute innocence of any plot against the prince's life. Nevertheless, early on August 19, sentence was pronounced upon him of banishment and loss of all his offices. Later on the same day Cornelis sent a message to his brother that he should like to see him. John, in spite of strong warnings, came to the Gevangenpoort and was admitted to the room where the Ruwaard, as a result of the cruel treatment he had received, was lying in bed; and the two brothers had a long conversation. Meanwhile a great crowd had gathered round the prison clamouring for vengeance upon the De Witts. Three companies of soldiers were however drawn up under the command of Count Tilly with orders from the Commissioned-Councillors to maintain order. At the same time the schutterij—the civic guard—was called out. These latter, however, were not to be trusted and were rather inclined to fraternise with the mob. So long as Tilly's troops were at hand, the rioters were held in restraint and no acts of violence were attempted. It was at this critical moment that verbal orders came to Tilly to march his troops to the gates to disperse some bands of marauding peasants who were said to be approaching. Tilly refused to move without a written order. It came, signed by Van Asperen, the president of the Commissioned-Councillors, a strong Orange partisan. On receiving it Tilly is said to have exclaimed, "I will obey, but the De Witts are dead men." The soldiers were no sooner gone than the crowd, under the leadership of Verhoef, a goldsmith, and Van Bankhem, a banker, forced the door of the prison (the schutterij either standing aloof, or actually assisting in the attack), and rushing upstairs found John de Witt sitting calmly at the foot of his brother's bed reading aloud to him a passage of Scripture. Hands were laid upon both with brutal violence; they were dragged into the street; and there with blows of clubs and repeated stabs done to death. It was 4 p.m. when Tilly departed, at 4.30 all was over, but the infuriated rabble were not content with mere murder. The bodies were shamefully mis-handled and were finally hung up by the feet to a lamppost, round which to a late hour in the evening a crowd shouted, sang and danced. It is impossible to conceive a fate more horrible or less deserved. The poor dishonoured remains were taken down when night fell by faithful hands and were at dawn in the presence of a few relatives and friends interred in the Nieuwe Kerk.
That William III had any complicity in this execrable faict, as it was well styled by the new council-pensionary Fagel, there is not the slightest evidence. He was absent from the Hague at the time and wholly preoccupied with the sore necessities of the military position; and it is said that he was much affected at hearing the dreadful news. But his naturally cold and self-contained nature had been hardened in the school of adversity during the long years of humiliation which had been imposed upon him by John de Witt and his party. He had endured in proud patience awaiting the hour when he could throw off the yoke, and now that it had come he could not forgive. Under the plea that the number of those implicated in the deed was so large that it was impossible to punish them and thus stir up party passions at a time when the whole energies of the nation were needed for the war, he took no steps to bring the offenders to justice. Unfortunately for his reputation he was not content with a neutral attitude, but openly protected and rewarded the three chief offenders Tichelaer, Verhoef and Van Bankhem, all of them men of disreputable character.
Thus two of the greatest statesmen and patriots that Holland has produced, John van Oldenbarneveldt and John de Witt, both perished miserably, victims of the basest national ingratitude; and it will ever remain a stain upon the national annals and upon the memory of two illustrious Princes of Orange, Maurice and William III, that these tragedies were not averted.
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THE STADHOLDERATE OF WILLIAM III, 1672-1688
In the early summer of 1672, when William resolved to concentrate all his available forces for the defence of Holland covered by its water-line, the military situation was apparently hopeless. Had Turenne and Luxemburg made a united effort to force this line at the opening of the campaign the probability is that they would have succeeded. Instead of doing so they expended their energies in the capture of a number of fortified places in Gelderland, Overyssel and North Brabant; and in the meantime the stadholder was week by week strengthening the weak points in his defences, encouraging his men, personally supervising every detail and setting an example of unshaken courage and of ceaseless industry. He had at his side, as his field-marshal, George Frederick, Count of Waldeck, an officer of experience and skill who had entered the Republic's service, and Van Beverningh as Commissioner of the States-General. With their help and counsel he had before autumn an efficient army of 57,000 men on guard behind entrenchments at all assailable points, while armed vessels patrolled the waterways. Outside the line Nijmwegen, Grave, Coevorden, Steenwijk and other smaller places had fallen; but the Muenster-Cologne forces, after a siege lasting from July 9 to August 28, had to retire from Groningen. The French armies were all this time being constantly weakened by having to place garrisons in the conquered provinces; and neither Turenne nor Luxemburg felt strong enough to attack the strongly-protected Dutch frontiers behind the water-line.
The prince, however, was not content with inaction. Assuming the offensive, he ventured on a series of attacks on Naarden and on Woerden, raised the siege of Maestricht, and finally made an attempt to cut the French communications by a march upon Charleroi. All these raids were more or less failures, since in each case William had to retreat without effecting anything of importance. Nevertheless the enterprise shown by the young general had the double effect of heartening his own troops and of undermining the overweening confidence of the enemy. A hard frost in December enabled Luxemburg to penetrate into Holland, but a rapid thaw compelled a hasty withdrawal. The only road open to him was blocked by a fortified post at Nieuwerbrug, but Colonel Vin et Pain, who was in command of the Dutch force, retired to Gouda and left the French a free passage, to the stadholder's great indignation. The colonel was tried on the charge of deserting his post, and shot.
The year 1673 was marked by a decisive change for the better in the position of the States. Alarm at the rapid growth of the French power brought at last both Spanish and Austrian assistance to the hard-pressed Netherlands; and the courage and skill of De Ruyter held successfully at bay the united fleets of England and France, and effectually prevented the landing of an army on the Dutch coast. Never did De Ruyter exhibit higher qualities of leadership than in the naval campaign of 1673. His fleet was greatly inferior in numbers to the combined Anglo-French fleet under Prince Rupert and D'Estrees. A stubborn action took place near the mouth of the Scheldt on June 7, in which the English had little assistance from the French squadron and finally retired to the estuary of the Thames. Another fierce fight at Kijkduin on August 21 was still more to the advantage of the Dutch. Meanwhile on land the French had scored a real success by the capture of the great fortress of Maestricht with its garrison of 6000 men, after a siege which lasted from June 6 to July 1. All attempts, however, to pass the water-line and enter Holland met with failure; and, as the summer drew to its close, the advance of Imperial and Spanish forces began to render the position of the French precarious. William seized his opportunity in September to capture Naarden before Luxemburg could advance to its relief. He then took a bolder step. In October, at the head of an army of 25,000 men, of whom 15,000 were Spanish, he marched to Cologne and, after effecting a junction with the Imperial army, laid siege to Bonn, which surrendered on November 15. This brilliant stroke had great results. The French, fearing that their communications might be cut, withdrew from the Dutch frontier; and at the same time the Muenster-Cologne forces hastily evacuated the eastern provinces. The stadholder before the end of the year entirely freed the country from its invaders. Once more a Prince of Orange had saved the Dutch Republic in its extremity.
The effect of this was to place almost supreme power in his hands. Had the prince at this moment set his heart upon obtaining the title of sovereign, he would have had but little difficulty in gratifying his ambition. Leading statesmen like the Council-Pensionary Fagel, the experienced Van Beverningh, and Valckenier, the most influential man in Amsterdam, would have supported him. But William was thoroughly practical. The freeing of the Provinces from the presence of the enemy was but the beginning of the task which he had already set before himself as his life-work, i.e. the overthrow of the menacing predominance of the French power under Louis XIV. His first care was the restoration of the well-nigh ruined land. The country outside the water-line had been cruelly devastated by the invaders, and then impoverished by having for a year and a half to maintain the armies of occupation. Large tracts on the borders of Holland, Utrecht and Friesland, submerged by the sea-waters through the cutting of the dams, had been rendered valueless for some years to come, while those parts of Holland and Zeeland on which the enemy had not set foot had been crushed beneath heavy taxes and the loss of commerce.
The position of the three provinces, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel, which had been overrun by the French at the opening of hostilities and held by them ever since, had to be re-settled. They had, during this period, paid no taxes, and had no representation in the States-General. Holland was in favour of reducing them to the status of Generality-lands until they had paid their arrears. The prince was opposed to any harshness of treatment, and his will prevailed. The three provinces were re-admitted into the Union, but with shorn privileges; and William was elected stadholder by each of them with largely increased powers. The nomination, or the choice out of a certain number of nominees, of the members of the Town-Corporations, of the Courts of Justice and of the delegates to the States-General, was granted to him. The Dutch Republic was full of anomalies. In Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel we have the curious spectacle in the days of William III of the stadholder, who was nominally a servant of the Sovereign Estates, himself appointing his masters. As a matter of fact, the voice of these provinces was his voice; and, as he likewise controlled the Estates in Zeeland, he could always count upon a majority vote in the States-General in support of his foreign policy. Nor was this all.
Holland itself, in gratitude for its deliverance, had become enthusiastically Orangist. It declared the stadholdership hereditary in the male-line, and its example was followed by Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel, while the States-General in their turn made the captain-and admiral-generalship of the Union hereditary offices. Nor was gratitude confined to the conferring of powers and dignities which gave the prince in all but name monarchical authority. At the proposal of Amsterdam, the city which so often had been and was yet to be the stubborn opponent of the Princes of Orange, William II's debt of 2,000,000 fl. was taken over by the province of Holland; Zeeland presented him with 30,000 fl.; and the East India Company with a grant of 1/33 of its dividends.
From the very first William had kept steadily in view a scheme of forming a great coalition to curb the ambitious designs of Louis XIV; and for effecting this object an alliance between England and the United Provinces was essential. The first step was to conclude peace. This was not a difficult task. The English Parliament, and still more the English people, had throughout been averse from fighting on the side of the French against the Dutch. Charles II, with the help of French money, had been carrying on the war in opposition to the wishes of his subjects, who saw their fleets but feebly supported by their French allies, their trade seriously injured, and but little chance of gaining any advantageous return for the heavy cost. Charles himself had a strong affection for his nephew, and began to turn a favourable ear to his proposals for negotiations, more especially as his heroic efforts to stem the tide of French invasion had met with so much success. In these circumstances everything was favourable to an understanding; and peace was concluded at Westminster on February 19,1674. The terms differed little from those of Breda, except that the Republic undertook to pay a war indemnity of 2,000,000 fl. within three years. The striking of the flag was conceded. Surinam remained in Dutch hands. New York, which had been retaken by a squadron under Cornelis Evertsen, August, 1673, was given back to the English crown. Negotiations were likewise opened with Muenster and Cologne; and peace was concluded with Muenster (April 22) and with Cologne (May 11) on the basis of the evacuation of all conquered territory. France was isolated and opposed now by a strong coalition, the Republic having secured the help of Austria, Spain, Brandenburg and Denmark. The campaign of the summer of 1674 thus opened under favouring circumstances, but nothing of importance occurred until August 11, when William at the head of an allied force of some 70,000 men encountered Conde at Seneff in Hainault. The battle was fought out with great obstinacy and there were heavy losses on both sides. The French, however, though inferior in numbers had the advantage in being a more compact force than that of the allies; and William, poorly supported by the Imperialist contingents, had to retire from the field. He was never a great strategist, but he now conducted a retreat which extracted admiration from his opponents. His talents for command always showed themselves most conspicuously in adverse circumstances. His coolness and courage in moments of peril and difficulty never deserted him, and, though a strict disciplinarian, he always retained the confidence and affection of his soldiers. On October 27 Grave was captured, leaving only one of the Dutch fortresses, Maestricht, in the hands of the French.
The war on land dragged on without any decisive results during 1675. The stadholder was badly supported by his allies and reduced to the defensive; but, though tentative efforts were made by the English government to set on foot negotiations for peace, and a growing party in Holland were beginning to clamour for the cessation of a war which was crippling their trade and draining the resources of the country, the prince was resolutely opposed to the English offer of mediation, which he regarded as insincere and premature. He was well aware that there was in England a very strong and widespread opposition to the succession of James Duke of York, who made no secret of his devoted attachment to the Roman Catholic faith. So strong was the feeling that he had been compelled to resign his post of Lord-High-Admiral. The dislike and distrust he aroused had been accentuated by his second marriage to Mary of Modena, a zealous Catholic. William was the son of the eldest daughter of Charles I, and to him the eyes of a large party in England were turning. The prince was keenly alive to the political advantages of his position. He kept himself well informed of the intrigues of the court and of the state of public opinion by secret agents, and entered into clandestine correspondence with prominent statesmen. Charles II himself, though he had not the smallest sympathy with his nephew's political views, was as kindly disposed to him as his selfish and unprincipled nature would allow, and he even went so far as to encourage in 1674 an alliance between him and his cousin Mary, the elder daughter of the Duke of York. But William had at that time no inclination for marriage. He was preoccupied with other things, and the age of Mary—she was only twelve—rendered it easy for him to postpone his final decision.
Events were to force his hand. In 1676 the French king, fearing the power of the coalition that was growing in strength, endeavoured to detach the republic by offering to make a separate peace on generous terms. Despite the opposition of the stadholder, Dutch and French representatives met at Nijmwegen; but William by his obdurate attitude rendered any settlement of the points in dispute impossible. In 1677, however, the capture of Valenciennes by the French and their decisive defeat of the allied army under William's command at Mont-Cassel (April 11) made it more difficult for him to resist the growing impatience of the burgher-class in Holland and especially of the merchants of Amsterdam at his opposition to peace. He was accused of wishing to continue the war from motives of personal ambition and the desire of military glory. In February of this year, however, Charles II after a period of personal rule was through lack of resources compelled to summon parliament. It no sooner met than it showed its strong sympathy with the Netherlands; and the king speedily saw that he could no longer pursue a policy opposed to the wishes of his people. When, therefore, William sent over his most trusted friend and counsellor, Bentinck, to London on a secret mission in the summer, he met with a most favourable reception; and the prince himself received an invitation to visit his uncle with the special object of renewing the proposal for his marriage with the Princess Mary. William accordingly arrived in London on October 19; and, the assent of the king and the Duke of York being obtained, the wedding was celebrated with almost indecent haste. It was a purely political union; and when, early in December, the Prince and Princess of Orange set sail for Holland, the young girl wept bitterly at having to leave her home for a strange land at the side of a cold, unsympathetic husband. The weeks he spent in England had been utilised by the prince to good purpose. He persuaded Charles to promise his support by land and sea to the Netherlands in case the terms of peace offered by the allies were rejected by the French. A treaty between the States and Great Britain giving effect to this promise was actually signed on January 29, 1678. The results, however, did not answer William's expectations. The English Parliament and the States alike had no trust in King Charles, nor was the English match at first popular in Holland. A strong opposition arose against the prince's war policy. The commercial classes had been hard hit by the French invasion, and they were now suffering heavy losses at sea through the Dunkirk privateers led by the daring Jean Bart. The peace party included such tried and trusted statesmen as Van Beverningh, Van Beuningen and the Council-Pensionary Fagel, all of them loyal counsellors of the stadholder. So resolute was the attitude of Amsterdam that the leaders of both municipal parties, Valckenier and Hooft, were agreed in demanding that the French offers of a separate peace should be accepted. On the same side was found Henry Casimir, Stadholder of Friesland, who was jealous of his cousin's autocratic exercise of authority.
The pourparlers at Nijmwegen were still going on, but made no progress in face of William's refusal to treat except in concert with his allies. Louis XIV, however, fully informed of the state of public opinion and of the internal dissensions both in the United Provinces and in England, was not slow to take advantage of the situation. A powerful French army invaded Flanders and made themselves masters of Ypres and Ghent and proceeded to besiege Mons. William, despite the arrival of an English auxiliary force under Monmouth, could do little to check the enemy's superior forces. Meanwhile French diplomacy was busy at Amsterdam and elsewhere in the States, working against the war parties; and by the offer of favourable terms the States-General were induced to ask for a truce of six weeks. It was granted, and the Dutch and Spanish representatives at Nijmwegen (those of the emperor, of Brandenburg and of Denmark refusing to accede) speedily agreed to conclude peace on the following terms: the French to restore Maestricht and to evacuate all occupied Dutch territory, and to make a commercial treaty. Spain to surrender an important slice of southern Flanders, but to be left in possession of a belt of fortresses to cover their Netherland possessions against further French attack. But, though these conditions were accepted, the French raised various pretexts to delay the signature of the treaty, hoping that meanwhile Mons, which was closely beleaguered by Luxemburg, might fall into their hands, and thus become an asset which they could exchange for some other possession. The States and the Spanish Government were both anxious to avoid this; and the Prince of Orange, who steadily opposed the treaty, returned towards the end of July to his camp to watch the siege of Mons and prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy. At the same time (July 26) King Charles, who had been working through Sir William Temple for the conclusion of peace, now declared that, unless the treaty was signed before August 11, he would assist the allies to enforce it. The French diplomatists at Nijmwegen had hitherto declared that their troops would not evacuate Maestricht and the other places which they had agreed to restore to the States, until Brandenburg and Denmark had evacuated the territory they had conquered from Sweden. On August 10, just before time for resuming hostilities had been reached, they tactfully conceded this point and promised immediate evacuation, if the treaty were at once concluded. Van Beverningh and his colleagues accordingly, acting on their instructions, affixed their signatures just before midnight.
They fell into the trap laid for them, for the treaty between France and Spain was not yet signed, and it was the intention of the French to make further pretexts for delay in the hope that Mons meanwhile would fall. The report of the conclusion of peace reached the stadholder in his camp on August 13, but unofficially. On the morning of August 14 D'Estrades came personally to bring the news to Luxemburg; and the French marshal was on the point of forwarding the message to the Dutch camp, when he heard that Orange was advancing with his army to attack him, and he felt that honour compelled him to accept the challenge. A sanguinary fight took place at St Denis, a short distance from Mons. William exposed his life freely, and though the result was nominally a drawn battle, he achieved his purpose. Luxemburg raised the siege of Mons, and the negotiations with Spain were pressed forward. The treaty was signed on September 17, 1678. The peace of Nijmwegen thus brought hostilities to an end, leaving the United Provinces in possession of all their territory. It lasted ten years, but it was only an armed truce. Louis XIV desired a breathing space in which to prepare for fresh aggressions; and his tireless opponent, the Prince of Orange, henceforth made it the one object of his life to form a Grand Alliance to curb French ambition and uphold in Europe what was henceforth known as "the Balance of Power."
In setting about this task William was confronted with almost insuperable difficulties. The Dutch people generally had suffered terribly in the late invasions and were heartily sick of war. The interest of the Hollanders and especially of the Amsterdammers was absorbed in the peaceful pursuits of commerce. The far-reaching plans and international combinations, upon which William concentrated his whole mind and energies, had no attraction for them, even had they understood their purpose and motive. The consequence was that the prince encountered strong opposition, and this not merely in Holland and Amsterdam, but from his cousin Henry Casimir and the two provinces of which he was stadholder. In Amsterdam the old "States" party revived under the leadership of Valckenier and Hooft; and in his latter days Van Beuningen was ready to resist to the utmost any considerable outlay on the army or navy or any entangling alliances. They held that it was the business of the Republic to attend to its own affairs and to leave Louis to pursue his aggressive policy at the expense of other countries, so long as he left them alone. The ideal which William III had set before him was the exact reverse of this; and, unfortunately for his own country, throughout his life he often subordinated its particular interests to the wider European interests which occupied his attention.
The work of building up afresh a coalition to withstand the ever-growing menace of the formidable French power could scarcely have been more unpromising than it now appeared. Spain was utterly exhausted and feeble. Brandenburg and Denmark had been alienated by the States concluding a separate peace at Nijmwegen and leaving them in the lurch. The attention of the emperor was fully occupied in defending Hungary and Vienna itself against the Turks. England under Charles II was untrustworthy and vacillating, almost a negligible quantity. A visit made by William to London convinced him that nothing was at present to be hoped for from that quarter. At the same time the very able French ambassador at the Hague, D'Avaux, did his utmost to foment the divisions and factions in the Provinces. He always insisted that he was accredited to the States-General and not to the Prince of Orange, and carried on correspondence and intrigues with the party in Amsterdam opposed to the stadholder's anti-French policy. The cumbrous and complicated system of government enabled him thus to do much to thwart the prince and to throw obstacles in his way. The curious thing is, that William was so intent on his larger projects that he was content to use the powers he had without making any serious attempt, as he might have done, to make the machine of government more workable by reforms in the direction of centralisation. Immersed in foreign affairs, he left the internal administration in the hands of subordinates chosen rather for their subservience than for their ability and probity; and against several of them, notably against his relative Odijk, serious charges were made. Odijk, representing the prince as first noble in Zeeland, had a large patronage; and he shamelessly enriched himself by his venal traffic in the disposal of offices without a word of rebuke from William, in whose name he acted. On the contrary, he continued to enjoy his favour. Corruption was scarcely less rife in Holland, though no one practised it quite on the same scale as Odijk in Zeeland. William indeed cared little about the domestic politics of the Republic, except in so far as they affected his diplomatic activities; and in this domain he knew how to employ able and devoted men. He had Waldeck at his side not merely as a military adviser, but as a skilful diplomatist well versed in the intricate politics of the smaller German states; Everhard van Weede, lord of Dijkveld, and Godard van Rheede, lord of Amerongen, proved worthy successors of Van Beverningh and Van Beuningen. Through the Council-Pensionary Fagel he was able to retain the support of the majority in the Estates of Holland, despite the strong opposition he encountered at Amsterdam and some other towns, where the interests of commerce reigned supreme. The death of Gillis Valckenier, the ablest of the leaders of the opposition in Amsterdam, in 1680 left the control of affairs in that city in the hands of Nicolaes Witsen and Johan Hudde, but these were men of less vigour and determination than Valckenier.