The events of 1741, however, were such as to compel a change of attitude. The Prussians were in possession of Silesia; and spoliation, having begun so successfully, became infectious. The aged Fleury was no longer able to restrain the war party in France. In May at Nymphenburg a league was formed by France, Spain, Sardinia, Saxony and Poland, in conjunction with Prussia and Bavaria, to effect the overthrow of Maria Theresa and share her inheritance between them. Resistance seemed hopeless. A Franco-Bavarian army penetrated within a few miles of Vienna, and then overran Bohemia. Charles Albert was crowned King of Bohemia at Prague and then (January, 1742) was elected Emperor under the title of Charles VII.
Before this election took place, however, English mediation had succeeded by the convention of Klein-Schnellendorf in securing a suspension of hostilities (October 9) between Austria and Prussia. This left Frederick in possession of Silesia, but enabled the Queen of Hungary, supported by English and Dutch subsidies, not only to clear Bohemia from its invaders, but to conquer Bavaria. At the very time when Charles Albert was elected Emperor, his own capital was occupied by his enemies. In February, 1742, the long ministry of Walpole came to an end; and the party in favour of a more active participation in the war succeeded to office. George II was now thoroughly alarmed for the safety of his Hanoverian dominions; and Lord Stair was sent to the Hague on a special mission to urge the States to range themselves definitely on the side of Maria Theresa. But fears of a French onslaught on the southern Netherlands still caused timorous counsels to prevail. The French ambassador, De Fenelon, on his part was lavish in vague promises not unmingled with veiled threats, so that the feeble directors of Dutch policy, torn between their duty to treaty obligations urged upon them by England, and their dread of the military power of France, helplessly resolved to cling to neutrality as long as possible. But events proved too strong for them. Without asking their permission, an English force of 16,000 men landed at Ostend and was sent to strengthen the garrison of the barrier fortresses (May, 1742). The warlike operations of this year were on the whole favourable to Maria Theresa, who through English mediation, much against her will, secured peace with Prussia by the cession of Silesia. The treaty between the two powers was signed at Berlin on July 28. Hostilities with France continued; but, though both the Maritime Powers helped Austria with subsidies, neither Great Britain nor the States were at the close of the year officially at war with the French king.
Such a state of precarious make-believe could not last much longer. The Austrians were anxious that the English force in the Netherlands, which had been reinforced and was known as the Pragmatic Army, should advance into Bavaria to co-operate with the Imperial forces. Accordingly the army, commanded by George II in person, advanced across the Main to Dettingen. Here the king, shut in by French forces and cut off from his supplies, was rescued from a very difficult position by the valour of his troops, who on June 27, 1743 attacked and completely routed their opponents. The States-General had already, on June 22, recognised their responsibilities; and by a majority vote it was determined that a force of 20,000 men under the command of Count Maurice of Nassau-Ouwerkerk should join the Pragmatic Army.
The fiction that the Maritime Powers were not at war with France was kept up until the spring of 1744, when the French king in alliance with Spain declared war on England. One of the projects of the war party at Versailles was the despatch of a powerful expedition to invade England and restore the Stewarts. As soon as news of the preparations reached England, a demand was at once made, in accordance with treaty, for naval aid from the States. Twenty ships were asked for, but only eight were in a condition to sail; and the admiral in command, Grave, was 73 years of age and had been for fifteen years in retirement. What an object lesson of the utter decay of the Dutch naval power! Fortunately a storm dispersed the French fleet, and the services of the auxiliary squadron were not required.
The news that Marshal Maurice de Saxe was about to invade the Austrian Netherlands with a French army of 80,000 men came like a shock upon the peace party in the States. The memory of 1672 filled them with terror. The pretence of neutrality could no longer be maintained. The choice lay between peace at any price or war with all its risks; and it was doubtful which of the two alternatives was the worse. Was there indeed any choice? It did not seem so, when De Fenelon, who had represented France at the Hague for nineteen years, came to take leave of the States-General on his appointment to a command in the invading army (April 26). But a last effort was made. An envoy-extraordinary, the Count of Wassenaer-Twickel, was sent to Paris, but found that the king was already with his army encamped between Lille and Tournay. Wassenaer was amused with negotiations for awhile, but there was no pause in the rapid advance of Marshal Saxe. The barrier fortresses, whose defences had been neglected, fell rapidly one after another. All west Flanders was overrun. The allied forces, gathered at Oudenarde, were at first too weak to offer resistance, and were divided in counsels. Gradually reinforcements came in, but still the Pragmatic army remained inactive and was only saved from inevitable defeat by the invasion of Alsace by the Imperialists. Marshal Saxe was compelled to despatch a considerable part of the invading army to meet this attack on the eastern frontier, and to act on the defensive in Flanders. Menin, Courtrai, Ypres, Knocke and other places remained, however, in French hands.
All this time the Dutch had maintained the fiction that the States were not at war with France; but in January, 1745, the pressure of circumstances was too strong even for the weak-kneed Van der Heim and his fellow-statesmen, and a quadruple alliance was formed between England, Austria, Saxony and the United Provinces to maintain the Pragmatic Sanction. This was followed in March by the declaration of war between France and the States. Meanwhile the position of Austria had improved. The Emperor Charles VII died on January 20; and his youthful successor Maximilian Joseph, in return for the restoration of his electorate, made peace with Maria Theresa and withdrew all Bavarian claims to the Austrian succession. Affairs in Flanders however did not prosper. The command-in-chief of the allied army had been given to the Duke of Cumberland, who was no match for such an opponent as Maurice de Saxe. The Prince of Waldeck was in command of the Dutch contingent.
The provinces of Friesland, Groningen, Overyssel and Gelderland had repeatedly urged that this post should be bestowed upon the Prince of Orange; and the States-General had in 1742 offered to give William the rank of lieutenant-general in the army, but Holland and Zeeland steadily refused. The campaign of 1745 was disastrous. The battle of Fontenoy (May 11) resulted in a victory for Marshal Saxe over the allied forces, a victory snatched out of the fire through the pusillanimous withdrawal from the fight of the Dutch troops on the left wing. The British infantry with magnificent valour on the right centre had pierced through the French lines, only to find themselves deserted and overwhelmed by superior forces. This victory was vigorously followed up. The Jacobite rising under Charles Edward, the young Pretender, had necessitated the recalling not only of the greater part of the English expeditionary force, but also, under the terms of the treaties between Great Britain and the United Provinces, of a body of 6000 Dutch. Before the year 1745 had ended, Tournay, Ghent, Bruges, Oudenarde, Dendermonde, Ostend, Nieuport, Ath fell in succession into the hands of Marshal Saxe, and after a brave defence Brussels itself was forced to capitulate on February 19, 1746.
Van der Heim and the Republican conclave in whose hands was the direction of foreign affairs, dreading the approach of the French armies to the Dutch frontier, sent the Count de Larrey on a private mission to Paris in November, 1745, to endeavour to negotiate terms of peace. He was unsuccessful; and in February, 1746 another fruitless effort was made, Wassenaer and Jacob Gilles being the envoys. The French minister, D'Argenson, was not unwilling to discuss matters with them; and negotiations went on for some time in a more or less desultory way, but without in any way checking the alarming progress of hostilities. An army 120,000 strong under Marshal Saxe found for some months no force strong enough to resist it. Antwerp, Louvain, Mechlin, Mons, Charleroi, Huy and finally Namur (September 21) surrendered to the French. At last (October 11) a powerful allied army under the command of Charles of Lorraine made a stand at Roucoux. A hardly-fought battle, in which both sides lost heavily, ended in the victory of the French. Liege was taken, and the French were now masters of Belgium.
These successes made the Dutch statesmen at the Hague the more anxious to conclude peace. D'Argenson had always been averse to an actual invasion of Dutch territory; and it was arranged between him and the Dutch envoys, Wassenaer and Gilles, at Paris, and between the council-pensionary Van der Heim and the Abbe de la Ville at the Hague, that a congress should meet at Breda in August, in which England consented to take part. Before it met, however, Van der Heim had died (August 15). He was succeeded by Jacob Gilles. The congress was destined to make little progress, for several of the provinces resented the way in which a small handful of men had secretly been committing the Republic to the acceptance of disadvantageous and humiliating terms of peace, without obtaining the consent of the States-General to their proposals. The congress did not actually assemble till October, and never got further than the discussion of preliminaries, for the war party won possession of power at Paris, and Louis XV dismissed D'Argenson. Moderate counsels were thrown to the winds; and it was determined in the coming campaign to carry the war into Dutch territory.
Alarm at the threatening attitude of the French roused the allies to collect an army of 90,000 men, of whom more than half were Austrian; but, instead of Charles of Lorraine, the Duke of Cumberland was placed in command. Marshal Saxe, at the head of the main French force, held Cumberland in check, while he despatched Count Loewenthal with 20,000 to enter Dutch Flanders. His advance was a triumphal progress. Sluis, Cadsand and Axel surrendered almost without opposition. Only the timely arrival of an English squadron in the Scheldt saved Zeeland from invasion.
The news of these events caused an immense sensation. For some time popular resentment against the feebleness and jobbery of the stadholderless government had been deep and strong. Indignation knew no bounds; and the revolutionary movement to which it gave rise was as sudden and complete in 1747 as in 1672. All eyes were speedily turned to the Prince of Orange as the saviour of the country. The movement began on April 25 at Veere and Middelburg in the island of Walcheren. Three days later the Estates of the Province proclaimed the prince stadholder and captain-and admiral-general of Zeeland. The province of Holland, where the stadholderless form of government was so deeply rooted and had its most stubborn and determined supporters, followed the example of Zeeland on May 3, Utrecht on May 5, and Overyssel on May 10. The States-General appointed him captain-and admiral-general of the Union. Thus without bloodshed or disturbance of any kind or any personal effort on the part of the prince, he found himself by general consent invested with all the posts of dignity and authority which had been held by Frederick Henry and William III. It was amidst scenes of general popular rejoicing that William visited Amsterdam, the Hague and Middelburg, and prepared to set about the difficult task to which he had been called.
One of the first results of the change of government was the closing of the Congress of Breda. There was no improvement, however, in the military position. The allied army advancing under Cumberland and Waldeck, to prevent Marshal Saxe from laying siege to Maestricht, was attacked by him at Lauffeldt on July 2. The fight was desperately contested, and the issue was on the whole in favour of the allies, when at a critical moment the Dutch gave way; and the French were able to claim, though at very heavy cost, a doubtful victory. It enabled Saxe nevertheless to despatch a force under Loewenthal to besiege the important fortress of Bergen-op-Zoom. It was carried by assault on September 16, and with it the whole of Dutch Brabant fell into the enemy's hands.
Indignation against the rule of the burgher-regents, which had been instrumental in bringing so many disasters upon the Republic, was very general; and there was a loudly expressed desire that the prince should be invested with greater powers, as the "eminent head" of the State. With this object in view, on the proposal of the nobles of Holland, the Estates of that province made the dignity of stadholder and of captain-and admiral-general hereditary in both the male and female lines. All the other provinces passed resolutions to the same effect; and the States-General made the offices of captain-and admiral-general of the Union also hereditary. In the case of a minority, the Princess-Mother was to be regent; in that of a female succession the heiress could only marry with the consent of the States, it being provided that the husband must be of the Reformed religion, and not a king or an elector.
Strong measures were taken to prevent the selling of offices and to do away with the system of farming out the taxes. The post-masterships in Holland, which produced a large revenue, were offered to the prince; but, while undertaking the charge, he desired that the profits should be applied to the use of the State. Indeed they were sorely needed, for though William would not hear of peace and sent Count Bentinck to England to urge a vigorous prosecution of the war in conjunction with Austria and Russia in 1748, promising a States contingent of 70,000 men, it was found that, when the time for translating promises into action came, funds were wanting. Holland was burdened with a heavy debt; and the contributions of most of the provinces to the Generality were hopelessly in arrears. In Holland a "voluntary loan" was raised, which afterwards extended to the other provinces and also to the Indies, at the rate of 1 per cent. on properties between 1000 fl. and 2000 fl.; of 2 per cent. on those above 2000 fl. The loan (mildegift) produced a considerable sum, about 50,000,000 fl.; but this was not enough, and the prince had the humiliation of writing and placing before the English government the hopeless financial state of the Republic, and their need of a very large loan, if they were to take any further part in the war. This pitiful revelation of the condition of their ally decided Great Britain to respond to the overtures for peace on the part of France. The representatives of the powers met at Aix-la-Chapelle; and, as the English and French were both thoroughly tired of the war, they soon came to terms. The preliminaries of peace between them were signed on April 30, 1748, on the principle of a restoration of conquests. In this treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle the United Provinces were included, but no better proof could be afforded of the low estate to which the Dutch Republic had now fallen than the fact that its representatives at Aix-la-Chapelle, Bentinck and Van Haren, were scarcely consulted and exercised practically no influence upon the decisions. The French evacuated the southern Netherlands in return for the restoration to them of the colony of Cape Breton, which had fallen into the hands of the English; and the barrier towns were again allowed to receive Dutch garrisons. It was a useless concession, for their fortifications had been destroyed, and the States could no longer spare the money to make them capable of serious defence.
The position of William IV all this time was exceptionally responsible, and therefore the more trying. Never before had any Prince of Orange been invested with so much power. The glamour attaching to the name of Orange was perhaps the chief asset of the new stadholder in facing the serious difficulties into which years of misgovernment had plunged the country. He had undoubtedly the people at his back, but unfortunately they expected an almost magical change would take place in the situation with his elevation to the stadholderate. Naturally they were disappointed. The revolution of 1747 was not carried out in the spirit of "thorough," which marked those of 1618, 1650 and 1672. William IV was cast in a mould different from that of Maurice or William II, still more from that of his immediate predecessor William III. He was a man of wide knowledge, kindly, conciliatory, and deeply religious, but only a mediocre statesman. He was too undecided in his opinions, too irresolute in action, to be a real leader in a crisis.
The first business was to bring back peace to the country; and this was achieved, not by any influence that the Netherlands government was able to exercise upon the course of the negotiations at Aix-la-Chapelle, but simply as a part of the understanding arrived at by Great Britain and France. It was for the sake of their own security that the English plenipotentiaries were willing to give up their conquests in North America as compensation for the evacuation of those portions of Belgium and of the Republic that the French forces occupied, and the restoration of the barrier fortresses.
After peace was concluded, not only the Orange partisans but the great mass of the people, who had so long been excluded from all share of political power, desired a drastic reform of the government. They had conferred sovereign authority upon William, and would have willingly increased it, in the hope that he would in his person be a centre of unity to the State, and would use his power for the sweeping away of abuses. It was a vain hope. He never attempted to do away, root and branch, with the corrupt municipal oligarchies, but only to make them more tolerable by the infusion of a certain amount of new blood.
The birth of an heir on March 8,1748, caused great rejoicings, for it promised permanence to the new order of things. Whatever the prince had firmly taken in hand would have met with popular approval, but William had little power of initiative or firmness of principle. He allowed his course of action to be swayed now by one set of advisers, now by their opponents. Even in the matter of the farmers of the revenue, the best-hated men throughout the Republic and especially in Holland, it required popular tumults and riots at Haarlem, Leyden, the Hague and Amsterdam, in which the houses of the obnoxious officials were attacked and sacked, to secure the abolition of a system by which the proceeds of taxation were diverted from the service of the State to fill the pockets of venal and corrupt officials. In Amsterdam the spirit of revolt against the domination of the Town Council by a few patrician families led to serious disorders and armed conflicts in which blood was shed; and in September, 1748, the prince, at the request of the Estates, visited the turbulent city. As the Town Council proved obstinate in refusing to make concessions, the stadholder was compelled to take strong action. The Council was dismissed from office, but here, as elsewhere, the prince was averse from making a drastic purge; out of the thirty-six members, more than half, nineteen, were restored. The new men, who thus took their seats in the Town Council, obtained the sobriquet of "Forty-Eighters."
The state of both the army and navy was deplorable at the end of the war in which the States had played so inglorious a part. William had neither the training nor the knowledge to undertake their reorganisation. He therefore sought the help of Lewis Ernest, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel (1718-86), who, as an Austrian field-marshal, had distinguished himself in the war. Brunswick was with difficulty persuaded, in October, 1749, to accept the post of Dutch field-marshal, a salary of 60,000 fl. being guaranteed to him, the governorship of Hertogenbosch, and the right to retain his rank in the Austrian army. The duke did not actually arrive in Holland and take up his duties until December, 1750.
The prince's efforts to bring about a reform of the Admiralties, to make the Dutch navy an efficient force and to restore the commerce and industries of the country were well meant, but were marred by the feebleness of his health. All through the year 1750 he had recurring attacks of illness and grew weaker. On October 22, 1751, he died. It is unfair to condemn William IV because he did not rise to the height of his opportunities. When in 1747 power was thrust upon him so suddenly, no man could have been more earnest in his wish to serve his country. But he was not gifted with the great abilities and high resolve of William III; and there can be no doubt that the difficulties with which he had to contend were manifold, complex and deep-rooted. A valetudinarian like William IV was not fitted to be the physician of a body-politic suffering from so many diseases as that of the United Provinces in 1747.
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THE REGENCY OF ANNE AND OF BRUNSWICK.
On the death of William IV, his widow, Anne of England, was at once recognised as regent and guardian of her son William V. Bentinck and other leaders of the Orangist party took prompt measures to secure that the hereditary rights of the young prince did not suffer by his father's early death. During the minority Brunswick was deputed to perform the duties of captain-general. The new regent was a woman of by no means ordinary parts. In her domestic life she possessed all the virtues of her mother, Queen Caroline; and in public affairs she had been of much help to her husband and was deeply interested in them. She was therefore in many ways well-fitted to undertake the serious responsibilities that devolved upon her, but her good qualities were marred by a self-willed and autocratic temperament, which made her resent any interference with her authority. William Bentinck, who was wont to be insistent with his advice, presuming on the many services he had rendered, the Duke of Brunswick, and the council-pensionary Steyn were all alike distrusted and disliked by her. Her professed policy was not to lean on any party, but to try and hold the balance between them. Unfortunately William IV, after the revolution of 1747, had allowed his old Frisian counsellors (with Otto Zwier van Haren at their head) to have his ear and to exercise an undue influence upon his decisions. This Frisian court-cabal continued to exercise the same influence with Princess Anne; and the Hollanders not unnaturally resented it. For Holland, as usual, in the late war had borne the brunt of the cost and had a debt of 70,000,000 fl. and an annual deficit of 28,000,000 fl. The council-pensionary Steyn was a most competent financier, and he with Jan Hop, the treasurer-general of the Union, and with William Bentinck, head and spokesman of the nobles in the Estates of Holland, were urgent in impressing upon the Regent the crying need of retrenchment. Anne accepted their advice as to the means by which economies might be effected and a reduction of expenses be brought about. Among these was the disbanding of some of the military forces, including a part of the body-guard. To this the regent consented, though characteristically without consulting Brunswick. The captain-general felt aggrieved, but allowed the reduction to be made without any formal opposition. No measure, however, of a bold and comprehensive financial reform, like that of John de Witt a century earlier, was attempted.
The navy had at the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle been in an even worse condition than the army; and the stadholder, as admiral-general, had been urging the Admiralties to bestir themselves and to make the fleet more worthy of a maritime power. But William's premature death brought progress to a standstill; and it is noteworthy that such was the supineness of the States-General in 1752 that, while Brunswick was given the powers of captain-general, no admiral-general was appointed. The losses sustained by the merchants and ship-owners through the audacity of the Algerian pirates roused public opinion, however; and in successive years squadrons were despatched to the Mediterranean to bring the sea-robbers to reason. Admiral Boudaen in 1755 contented himself with the protection of the merchantmen, but Wassenaer in 1756 and 1757 was more aggressive and compelled the Dey of Algiers to make terms.
Meanwhile the rivalry between France and England on the one hand, and between Austria and Prussia on the other, led to the formation of new alliances, and placed the Dutch Republic in a difficult position. The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was but an armed truce. The French lost no time in pushing forward ambitious schemes of colonial enterprise in North America and in India. Their progress was watched with jealous eyes by the English; and in 1755 war broke out between the two powers. The Republic was bound to Great Britain by ancient treaties; but the activities of the French ambassador, D'Affry, had been successful in winning over a number of influential Hollanders and also the court-cabal to be inclined to France and to favour strict neutrality. The situation was immensely complicated by the alliance concluded between Austria and France on May 1, 1756.
This complete reversal of the policy, which from the early years of William III had grouped England, Austria and the States in alliance against French aggression, caused immense perturbation amongst the Dutch statesmen. By a stroke of the pen the Barrier Treaty had ceased to exist, for the barrier fortresses were henceforth useless. The English ambassador, Yorke, urged upon the Dutch government the treaty right of Great Britain to claim the assistance of 6000 men and twenty ships; Austria had the able advocacy of D'Affry in seeking to induce the States to become parties to the Franco-Austrian alliance. The regent, though an English princess, was scarcely less zealous than were the council-pensionary Steyn, Brunswick and most of the leading burgher-regents in desiring to preserve strict neutrality. To England the answer was made that naval and military help were not due except in case of invasion. The French had meanwhile been offering the Dutch considerable commercial privileges in exchange for their neutrality, with the result that Dutch merchantmen were seized by the English cruisers and carried into English ports to be searched for contraband.
The princess had a very difficult part to play. Delegations of merchants waited upon her urging her to exert her influence with the English government not to use their naval supremacy for the injury of Dutch trade. Anne did her best, but without avail. England was determined to stop all commercial intercourse between France and the West Indies. Dutch merchantmen who attempted to supply the French with goods did so at their own risk. Four deputations from Amsterdam and the maritime towns waited upon the princess, urging an increase of the fleet as a protection against England. Other deputations came from the inland provinces, asking for an increase of the army against the danger of a French invasion. The French were already in occupation of Ostend and Nieuport, and had threatening masses of troops on the Belgian frontier. The regent, knowing on which side the peril to the security of the country was greatest, absolutely refused her consent to an increase of the fleet without an increase of the army. The Estates of Holland refused to vote money for the army; and, having the power of the purse, matters were at a deadlock. The Republic lay helpless and without defence should its enemies determine to attack it. In the midst of all these difficulties and anxieties, surrounded by intrigues and counter-intrigues, sincerely patriotic and desirous to do her utmost for the country, but thwarted and distrusted on every side, the health of the regent, which had never been strong, gradually gave way. On December 11, 1758, she went in person to the States-General, "with tottering steps and death in her face," to endeavour to secure unity of action in the presence of the national danger, but without achieving her object. The maritime provinces were obdurate. Seeing death approaching, with the opening of the new year she made arrangements for the marriage of her daughter Caroline with Charles Christian, Prince of Nassau-Weilburg, and after committing her two children to the care of the Duke of Brunswick (with whom she had effected a reconciliation) and making him guardian of the young Prince of Orange, Anne expired on January 12, 1759, at the early age of forty-nine.
The task Brunswick had to fulfil was an anxious one, but by the exercise of great tact, during the seven years of William's minority, he managed to gather into his hands a great deal of the powers of a stadholder, and at the same time to ingratiate himself with the anti-Orange States party, whose power especially in Holland had been growing in strength and was in fact predominant. By politic concessions to the regents, and by the interest he displayed in the commercial and financial prosperity of the city of Amsterdam, that chief centre of opposition gave its support to his authority; and he was able to do this while keeping at the same time on good terms with Bentinck, Steyn, Fagel and the Orange party.
The political position of the United Provinces during the early part of the Brunswick guardianship was impotent and ignominious in the extreme. Despite continued protests and complaints, Dutch merchantmen were constantly being searched for contraband and brought as prizes into English ports; and the lucrative trade that had been carried on between the West Indies and France in Dutch bottoms was completely stopped. Even the fitting out of twenty-one ships of the line, as a convoy, effected nothing, for such a force could not face the enormous superiority of the English fleet, which at that time swept the seas. The French ambassador, D'Affry, made most skilful use of his opportunities to create a pro-French party in Holland and especially in Amsterdam, and he was not unsuccessful in his intrigues. But the Dutch resolve to remain neutral at any cost remained as strong as ever, for, whatever might be the case with maritime Holland, the inland provinces shrank from running any risks of foreign invasion. When at last the Peace of Paris came in 1763, the representatives of the United Provinces, though they essayed to play the part of mediators between the warring powers, no longer occupied a position of any weight in the councils of the European nations. The proud Republic, which had treated on equal terms with France and with Great Britain in the days of John de Witt and of William III, had become in the eyes of the statesmen of 1763 a negligible quantity.
One of the effects of the falling-off in the overseas trade of Amsterdam was to transform this great commercial city into the central exchange of Europe. The insecurity of sea-borne trade caused many of the younger merchants to deal in money securities and bills of exchange rather than in goods. Banking houses sprang up apace, and large fortunes were made by speculative investments in stocks and shares; and loans for foreign governments, large and small, were readily negotiated. This state of things reached its height during the Seven Years' War, but with the settlement which followed the peace of 1763 disaster came. On July 25 the chief financial house in Amsterdam, that of De Neufville, failed to meet its liabilities and brought down in its crash a very large number of other firms, not merely in Holland, but also in Hamburg and other places; for a veritable panic was caused, and it was some time before stability could be restored.
The remaining three years of the Brunswick regime were uneventful in the home country. Differences with the English East India Company however led to the expulsion of the Dutch from their trading settlements on the Hooghley and Coromandel; and in Berbice there was a serious revolt of the negro slaves, which, after hard fighting in the bush, was put down with much cruelty. The young Prince of Orange on the attainment of his eighteenth year, March 8,1766, succeeded to his hereditary rights. His grandmother, Maria Louisa, to whose care he had owed much, had died on April 9, in the previous year. During the interval the Princess Caroline had taken her place as regent in Friesland.
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WILLIAM V. FIRST PERIOD, 1766-1780
Of all the stadholders of his line William V was the least distinguished. Neither in appearance, character nor manner was he fitted for the position which he had to fill. He had been most carefully educated, and was not wanting in ability, but he lacked energy and thoroughness, and was vacillating and undecided at moments when resolute action was called for. Like his contemporary Louis XVI, had he been born in a private station, he would have adorned it, but like that unhappy monarch he had none of the qualities of a leader of men in critical and difficult times. It was characteristic of him that he asked for confirmation from the Provincial Estates of the dignities and offices which were his by hereditary right. In every thing he relied upon the advice of the Duke of Brunswick, whose methods of government he implicitly followed. To such an extent was this the case that, soon after his accession to power, a secret Act was drawn up (May 3, 1766), known as the Act of Consultation, by which the duke bound himself to remain at the side of the stadholder and to assist him by word and deed in all affairs of State. During the earlier years therefore of William V's stadholderate he consulted Brunswick in every matter, and was thus encouraged to distrust his own judgment and to be fitful and desultory in his attention to affairs of State.
One of the first of Brunswick's cares was to provide for the prince a suitable wife. William II, William III and William IV had all married English princesses, but the feeling of hostility to England was strong in Holland, and it was not thought advisable for the young stadholder to seek for a wife in his mother's family. The choice of the duke was the Prussian Princess Wilhelmina. The new Princess of Orange was niece on the paternal side of Frederick the Great and on the maternal side of the Duke of Brunswick himself. The marriage took place at Berlin on October, 4 1767. The bride was but sixteen years of age, but her attractive manners and vivacious cleverness caused her to win the popular favour on her first entry into her adopted country.
The first eight years of William's stadholdership passed by quietly. There is little to record. Commerce prospered, but the Hollanders were no longer content with commerce and aimed rather at the rapid accumulation of wealth by successful financial transactions. Stock-dealing had become a national pursuit. Foreign powers came to Amsterdam for loans; and vast amounts of Dutch capital were invested in British and French funds and in the various German states. And yet all the time this rich and prosperous country was surrounded by powerful military and naval powers, and, having no strong natural frontiers, lay exposed defenceless to aggressive attack whether by sea or land. It was in vain that the stadholder, year by year, sent pressing memorials to the States-General urging them to strengthen the navy and the army and to put them on a war footing. The maritime provinces were eager for an increase of the navy, but the inland provinces refused to contribute their quota of the charges. Utrecht, Gelderland, Overyssel and Groningen on the other hand, liable as they were to suffer from military invasion, were ready to sanction a considerable addition to the land forces, but were thwarted by the opposition of Holland, Zeeland and Friesland. So nothing was done, and the Republic, torn by divided interests and with its ruling classes lapped in self-contented comfort and luxury, was a helpless prey that seemed to invite spoliation.
This was the state of things when the British North American colonies rose in revolt against the mother-country. The sympathies of France were from the first with the colonials; and a body of volunteers raised by Lafayette with the connivance of the French overnment crossed the Atlantic to give armed assistance to the rebels. Scarcely less warm was the feeling in the Netherlands. The motives which prompted it were partly sentimental, partly practical. There was a certain similarity between the struggle for independence on the part of the American colonists against a mighty state like Great Britain, and their own struggle with the world-power of Spain. There was also the hope that the rebellion would have the practical result of opening out to the Dutch merchants a lucrative trade with the Americans, one of whose chief grievances against the mother-country had been the severity of the restrictions forbidding all trading with foreign lands. At the same time the whole air was full of revolutionary ideas, which were unsettling men's minds. This was no less the case in the Netherlands than elsewhere; and the American revolt was regarded as a realisation and vindication in practical politics of the teaching of Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau, whose works were widely read, and of the Englishmen Hume, Priestley and Richard Price. Foremost among the propagandists of these ideas were Jan Dirk van der Capellen tot de Pol, a nobleman of Overyssel, and the three burgomasters of Amsterdam, Van Berckel, De Vrij Temminck and Hooft, all anti-Orange partisans and pro-French in sentiment. Amidst all these contending factions and opinions, the State remained virtually without a head, William V drifting along incapable of forming an independent decision, or of making a firm and resolute use of the great powers with which he was entrusted.
Torn by internal dissensions, the maintenance of neutrality by the Republic became even more difficult than in the Seven Years' War. The old questions of illicit trade with the enemy and the carrying of contraband arose. The Dutch islands of St Eustatius and Curacoa became centres of smuggling enterprise; and Dutch merchant vessels were constantly being searched by the British cruisers and often carried off as prizes into English ports. Strong protests were made and great irritation aroused. Amsterdam was the chief sufferer. Naturally in this hot-bed of Republican opinion and French sympathies, the prince was blamed and was accused of preferring English interests to those of his own country. The arrival of the Duke de la Vauguyon, as French ambassador, did much to fan the flame. Vauguyon entered into close relations with the Amsterdam regents and did all in his power to exacerbate the growing feeling of hostility to England, and to persuade the Republic to abandon the ancient alliance with that country in favour of one with France.
The British ambassador, Yorke, lacked his ingratiating manners; and his language now became imperative and menacing in face of the flourishing contraband trade that was carried on at St Eustatius. In consequence of his strong protest the governor of the island, Van Heyliger, was replaced by De Graeff, but it was soon discovered that the new governor was no improvement upon his predecessor. He caused additional offence to the British government by saluting the American flag on November 16, 1776. The threats of Yorke grew stronger, but with small result. The Americans continued to draw supplies from the Dutch islands. The entry of France into the war on February 6, 1778, followed by that of Spain, complicated matters. England was now fighting with her back to the wall; and her sea-power had to be exerted to its utmost to make head against so many foes. She waged relentless war on merchant ships carrying contraband or suspected contraband, whether enemy or neutral. At last money was voted under pressure from Amsterdam, supported by the prince, for the building of a fleet for protection against privateers and for purposes of convoy. But a fleet cannot be built in a day; and, when Admiral van Bylandt was sent out in 1777, his squadron consisted of five ships only. Meanwhile negotiations with England were proceeding and resulted in certain concessions, consent being given to allow what was called "limited convoy." The States-General, despite the opposition of Amsterdam, accepted on November 13, 1778, the proffered compromise. But the French ambassador Vauguyon supported the protest of Amsterdam by threatening, unless the States-General insisted upon complete freedom of trade, to withdraw the commercial privileges granted to the Republic by France. Finding that the States-General upheld their resolution of November 13, he carried his threat into execution. This action brought the majority of the Estates of Holland to side with Amsterdam and to call for a repeal of the "limited convoy" resolution. The English on their part, well aware of all this, continued to do their utmost to stop all supplies reaching their enemies in Dutch bottoms, convoy or no convoy. The British government, though confronted by so many foes, now took strong measures. Admiral van Bylandt, convoying a fleet of merchantmen through the Channel, was compelled by a British squadron to strike his flag; and all the Dutch vessels were taken into Portsmouth. This was followed by a demand under the treaty of 1678 for Dutch aid in ships and men, or the abrogation of the treaty of alliance and of the commercial privileges it carried with it. Yorke gave the States-General three weeks for their decision; and on April 17, 1779, the long-standing alliance, which William III had made the keystone of his policy, ceased to exist. War was not declared, but the States-General voted for "unlimited convoy" on April 24; and every effort was made by the Admiralties to build and equip a considerable fleet. The reception given to the American privateer, Paul Jones, who, despite English protests, was not only allowed to remain in Holland for three months, but was feted as a hero (October-December, 1779), accentuated the increasing alienation of the two countries.
At this critical stage the difficult position of England was increased by the formation under the leadership of Russia of a League of Armed Neutrality. Its object was to maintain the principle of the freedom of the seas for the vessels of neutral countries, unless they were carrying contraband of war, i.e.military or naval munitions. Further a blockade would not be recognised if not effective. Sweden and Denmark joined the league; and the Empress Catherine invited the United Provinces and several other neutral powers to do likewise. Her object was to put a curb upon what was described by Britain's enemies as the tyranny of the Mistress of the Seas. The Republic for some time hesitated. Conscious of their weakness at sea, the majority in the States-General were unwilling to take any overt steps to provoke hostilities, when an event occurred which forced their hands.
In 1778 certain secret negotiations had taken place between the Amsterdam regents and the American representatives at Paris, Franklin and Lee. It chanced that Henry Lawrence, a former President of the Congress, was on his way from New York to Amsterdam in September, 1780, for the purpose of raising a loan. Pursued by an English frigate, the ship on which he was sailing was captured off Newfoundland; and among his papers were found copies of the negotiations of 1778 and of the correspondence which then took place. Great was the indignation of the British government, and it was increased when the Estates of Holland, under the influence of Amsterdam, succeeded in bringing the States-General (by a majority of four provinces to three) to join the League of Armed Neutrality. Better open war than a sham peace. Instructions were therefore sent to the ambassador Yorke to demand the punishment of the Amsterdam regents for their clandestine transactions with the enemies of England. The reply was that the matter should be brought before the Court of Holland; and Van Welderen, the Dutch ambassador in London, in vain endeavoured to give assurances that the States were anxious to maintain a strict neutrality. Yorke demanded immediate satisfaction and once more called upon the Republic to furnish the aid in men and ships in accordance with the treaty. Further instructions were therefore sent to Van Welderen, but they were delayed by tempestuous weather. In any case they would have been of no avail. The British government was in no mood for temporising. On December 20, 1780 war was declared against the United Provinces; and three days later Yorke left the Hague.
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STADHOLDERATE OF WILLIAM V, continued, 1780-1788
The outbreak of war meant the final ruin of the Dutch Republic. Its internal condition at the close of 1780 made it hopelessly unfitted to enter upon a struggle with the overwhelming sea-power of England. Even had William V possessed the qualities of leadership, he would have had to contend against the bitter opposition and enmity of the anti-Orange party among the burgher-regents, of which Van der Capellen was one of the most moving spirits, and which had its chief centre in Amsterdam. But the prince, weak and incompetent, was apparently intent only on evading his responsibilities, and so laid himself open to the charges of neglect and mal-administration that were brought against him by his enemies.
Against an English fleet of more than 300 vessels manned by a force of something like 100,000 seamen, the Dutch had but twenty ships of the line, most of them old and of little value. Large sums of money were now voted for the equipment of a fleet; and the Admiralties were urged to press forward the work with all possible vigour. But progress was necessarily slow. Everything was lacking—material, munitions, equipment, skilled labour—and these could not be supplied in time to prevent Dutch commerce being swept from the seas and the Dutch colonies captured. The Republicans, or Patriots, as they began to name themselves, were at first delighted that the Orange stadholder and his party had been compelled to break with England and to seek the alliance of France; but their joy was but short-lived. Bad tidings followed rapidly one upon another. In the first month of the war 200 merchantmen were captured, of the value of 15,000,000 florins. The fishing fleets dared not put out to sea. In 1780 more than 2000 vessels passed through the Sound, in 1781 only eleven. On February 3 St Eustatius surrendered to Admiral Rodney, when one hundred and thirty merchantmen together with immense stores fell into the hands of the captors. Surinam and Curacoa received warning and were able to put themselves into a state of defence, but the colonies of Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo were taken, also St Martin, Saba and the Dutch establishments on the coast of Guinea. In the East Indies Negapatam and the factories in Bengal passed into English possession; and the Cape, Java and Ceylon would have shared the same fate, but for the timely protection of a French squadron under the command of Suffren, one of the ablest and bravest of French seamen.
The losses were enormous, and loud was the outcry raised in Amsterdam and elsewhere against the prince of being the cause of his country's misfortunes. "Orange," so his enemies said, "is to blame for everything. He possessed the power to do whatsoever he would, and he neglected to use it in providing for the navy and the land's defences." This was to a considerable extent unjust, for William from 1767 onwards had repeatedly urged an increase of the sea and land forces, but his proposals had been thwarted by bitter opposition, especially in Amsterdam itself. The accusations were to this extent correct that he was undoubtedly invested with large executive power which he had not the strength of will to use. It was at this period that Van der Capellen and others started a most violent press campaign not only against the stadholder, but against the hereditary stadholdership and all that the house of Orange-Nassau stood for in the history of the Dutch Republic. Brunswick was attacked with especial virulence. The "Act of Consultation" had become known; and, had the prince been willing to throw responsibility upon the duke for bad advice he might have gained some fleeting popularity by separating himself from the hated "foreigner." But William, weak though he was, would not abandon the man who in his youth had been to him and to his house a wise and staunch protector and friend; and he knew, moreover, that the accusations against Brunswick were really aimed at himself. The duke, however, after appealing to the States-General, and being by them declared free from blame, found the spirit of hostility so strong at Amsterdam and in several of the Provincial Estates that he withdrew first (1782) to Hertogenbosch, of which place he was governor, and finally left the country in 1784.
The war meanwhile, which had been the cause, or rather the pretext, for this outburst of popular feeling against Brunswick, was pursuing its course. In the summer of 1781 Rear-Admiral Zoutman, at the head of a squadron of fifteen war-ships, was ordered to convoy seventy-two merchantmen into the Baltic. He met an English force of twelve vessels, which were larger and better armed than the Dutch, under Vice-Admiral Hyde Parker. A fierce encounter took place at the Doggerbank on August 5, which lasted all day without either side being able to claim the victory. Parker was the first to retreat, but Zoutman had likewise to return to the Texel to repair his disabled ships, and his convoy never reached the Baltic. The Dutch however were greatly elated at the result of the fight, and Zoutman and his captains were feted as heroes.
Doggerbank battle was but, at the most, an indecisive engagement on a very small scale, and it brought no relaxation in the English blockade. No Dutch admiral throughout all the rest of the war ventured to face the English squadrons in the North Sea and in the Channel; and the Dutch mercantile marine disappeared from the ocean. England was strong enough to defy the Armed Neutrality, which indeed proved, as its authoress Catherine II is reported to have said, "an armed nullity." There was deep dissatisfaction throughout the country, and mutual recriminations between the various responsible authorities, but there was some justice in making the stadholder the chief scapegoat, for, whatever may have been the faults of others, a vigorous initiative in the earlier years of his stadholdership might have effected much, and would have certainly gained for him increased influence and respect.
The war lasted for two years, if war that could be called in which there was practically no fighting. There were changes of government in England during that time, and the party of which Fox was the leader had no desire to press hardly upon the Dutch. Several efforts were made to induce them to negotiate in London a separate peace on favourable terms, but the partisans of France in Amsterdam and elsewhere rendered these tentative negotiations fruitless. Being weak, the Republic suffered accordingly by having to accept finally whatever terms its mightier neighbour thought fit to dictate. On November 30, 1782, the preliminary treaty by which Great Britain conceded to the United States of America their independence was concluded. A truce between Great Britain and France followed in January, 1783, in which the United Provinces, as a satellite of France, were included. No further hostilities took place, but the negotiations for a definitive peace dragged on, the protests of the Dutch plenipotentiaries at Paris against the terms arranged between England and France being of no avail. Finally the French government concluded a separate peace on September 3; but it was not till May 20, 1784, that the Dutch could be induced to surrender Negapatam and to grant to the English the right of free entry into the Moluccas. Nor was this the only humiliation the Republic had at this time to suffer, for during the course of the English war serious troubles with the Emperor Joseph II had arisen.
Joseph had in 1780 paid a visit to his Belgian provinces, and he had seen with his own eyes the ruinous condition of the barrier fortresses. On the pretext that the fortresses were now useless, since France and the Republic were allies, Joseph informed the States-General of his intention to dismantle them all with the exception of Antwerp and Luxemburg. This meant of course the withdrawal of the Dutch garrisons. The States-General, being unable to resist, deemed it the wiser course to submit. The troops accordingly left the barrier towns in January, 1782. Such submission, as was to be expected, inevitably led to further demands.
The Treaty of Muenster (1648) had left the Dutch in possession of territory on both banks of the Scheldt, and had given them the right to close all access by river to Antwerp, which had for a century and a quarter ceased to be a sea-port. In 1781, during his visit to Belgium, Joseph had received a number of petitions in favour of the liberation of the Scheldt. At the moment he did not see his way to taking action, but in 1783 he took advantage of the embarrassments of the Dutch government to raise the question of a disputed boundary in Dutch Flanders; and in the autumn of that year a body of Imperial troops took forcible possession of some frontier forts near Sluis. Matters were brought to a head in May, 1784, by the emperor sending to the States-General a detailed summary of all his grievances, Tableau sommaire des pretentions. In this he claimed, besides cessions of territory at Maestricht and in Dutch Flanders, the right of free navigation on the Scheldt, the demolition of the Dutch forts closing the river, and freedom of trading from the Belgian ports to the Indies. This document was in fact an ultimatum, the rejection of which meant war. For once all parties in the Republic were united in resistance to the emperor's demands; and when in October, 1784, two ships attempted to navigate the Scheldt, the one starting from Antwerp, the other from Ostend, they were both stopped; the first at Saftingen on the frontier, the second at Flushing. War seemed imminent. An Austrian army corps was sent to the Netherlands; and the Dutch bestirred themselves with a vigour unknown in the States for many years to equip a strong fleet and raise troops to repel invasion. It is, however, almost certain that, had Joseph carried out his threat of sending a force of 80,000 men to avenge the insult offered to his ships, the hastily enlisted Dutch troops would not have been able to offer effectual resistance. But the question the emperor was raising was no mere local question. He was really seeking to violate important clauses of two international treaties, to which all the great powers were parties, the Treaty of Muenster and the Treaty of Utrecht. His own possession of the Belgian Netherlands and the independence and sovereign rights of the Dutch Republic rested on the same title. Joseph had counted upon the help or at least the friendly neutrality of his brother-in-law, Louis XVI, but France had just concluded an exhausting war in which the United Provinces had been her allies. The French, moreover, had no desire to see the Republic over-powered by an act of aggression that might give rise to European complications. Louis XVI offered mediation, and it was accepted.
It is doubtful indeed whether the emperor, whose restless brain was always full of new schemes, really meant to carry his threats into execution. In the autumn of 1784 a plan for exchanging the distant Belgian Netherlands for the contiguous Electorate of Bavaria was beginning to exercise his thoughts and diplomacy. He showed himself therefore ready to make concessions; and by the firmness of the attitude of France both the disputants were after lengthy negotiations brought to terms, which were embodied in a treaty signed at Fontainebleau on November 8,1785. The Dutch retained the right to close the Scheldt, but had to dismantle some of the forts; the frontier of Dutch Flanders was to be that of 1664; and Joseph gave up all claim to Maestricht in consideration of a payment of 9,500,000 florins. A few days later an alliance between France and the Republic, known as "the Defensive Confederacy" of Fontainebleau, was concluded, the French government advancing 4,500,000 florins towards the ransom of Maestricht. The return of peace, however, far from allaying the spirit of faction in the Republic, was to lead to civil strife.
The situation with which William V now had to deal was in some ways more difficult and dangerous than in the days of his greater predecessors. It was no longer a mere struggle for supremacy between the Orange-Stadholder party (prins-gezinderi) and the patrician-regents of the town corporations (staats-gezinderi); a third party had come into existence, the democratic or "patriot" party, which had imbibed the revolutionary ideas of Rousseau and others about the Rights of Man and the Social Contract. These new ideas, spread about with fiery zeal by the two nobles, Van der Capellen tot de Pol and his cousin Van der Capellen van den Marsch, had found a fertile soil in the northern Netherlands, and among all classes, including other nobles and many leading burgomasters. Their aim was to abolish all privileges whether in Church or State, and to establish the principle of the sovereignty of the people. These were the days, be it remembered, which immediately succeeded the American Revolution and preceded the summoning of the States-General in France with its fateful consequences. The atmosphere was full of revolution; and the men of the new ideas had no more sympathy with the pretensions of an aristocratic caste of burgher-regents to exclude their fellow-citizens from a voice in the management of their own affairs, than they had with the quasi-sovereign position of an hereditary stadholder. Among the Orange party were few men of mark. The council-pensionary Bleiswijk was without character, ready to change sides with the shifting wind; and Count Bentinck van Rhoon had little ability. They were, however, to discover in burgomaster Van de Spiegel of Goes a statesman destined soon to play a great part in the history of the country. During this period of acute party strife Patriot and Orangeman were not merely divided from one another on questions of domestic policy. The one party were strong adherents of the French alliance and leant upon its support; the other sought to renew the bonds which had so long united the Republic with England. Indeed the able representatives of France and England at the Hague at this time, the Count de Verac and Sir James Harris (afterwards Lord Malmesbury), were the real leaders and advisers, behind the scenes, of the opposing factions.
The strength of parties varied in the different provinces. Holland, always more or less anti-stadholder, was the chief centre of the patriots. With Holland were the majority of the Estates of Friesland, Groningen and Overyssel. In Utrecht the nobles and the regents were for the stadholder, but the townsmen were strong patriots. Zeeland supported the prince, who had with him the army, the preachers and the great mass of small bourgeoisie and the country folk. Nothing could exceed the violence and unscrupulousness of the attacks that were directed against the stadholder in the press; and no efforts were spared by his opponents to curtail his rights and to insult him personally. Corps of patriot volunteers were enrolled in different places with self-elected officers. The wearing of the Orange colours and the singing of the Wilhelmus was forbidden, and punished by fine and imprisonment. In September, 1785, a riot at the Hague led to the Estates of Holland taking from the stadholder the command of the troops in that city. They likewise ordered the foot-guards henceforth to salute the members of the Estates, and removed the arms of the prince from the standards and the facings of the troops. As a further slight, the privilege was given to the deputies, while the Estates were in session, to pass through the gate into the Binnenhof, which had hitherto been reserved for the use of the stadholder alone. Filled with indignation and resentment, William left the Hague with his family and withdrew to his country residence at Het Loo. Such a step only increased the confusion and disorder that was filling every part of the country, for it showed that William had neither the spirit nor the energy to make a firm stand against those who were resolved to overthrow his authority.
In Utrecht the strife between the parties led to scenes of violence. The "patriots" found an eloquent leader in the person of a young student named Ondaatje. The Estates of the province were as conservative as the city of Utrecht itself was ultra-democratic; and a long series of disturbances were caused by the burgher-regents of the Town Council refusing to accede to the popular demand for a drastic change in their constitution. Finally they were besieged in the town hall by a numerous gathering of the "free corps" headed by Ondaatje, and were compelled to accede to the people's demands. A portion of the Estates thereupon assembled at Amersfoort; and at their request a body of 400 troops were sent there from Nijmwegen. Civil war seemed imminent, but it was averted by the timely mediation of the Estates of Holland.
Scarcely less dangerous was the state of affairs in Gelderland. Here the Estates of the Gelderland had an Orange majority, but the patriots had an influential leader in Van der Capellen van den Marsch. Petitions and requests were sent to the Estates demanding popular reforms. The Estates not only refused to receive them but issued a proclamation forbidding the dissemination of revolutionary literature in the province. The small towns of Elburg and Hattem not only refused to obey, but the inhabitants proceeded by force to compel their Councils to yield to their demands. The Estates thereupon called upon the stadholder to send troops to restore order. This was done, and garrisons were placed in Elburg and Hattem. This step caused a very great commotion in Holland and especially at Amsterdam; and the patriot leaders felt that the time had come to take measures by which to unite all their forces in the different parts of the country for common defence and common action. The result of all this was that the movement became more and more revolutionary in its aims. To such an extent was this the case that many of the old aristocratic anti-stadholder regents began to perceive that the carrying out of the patriots' programme of popular reform would mean the overthrow of the system of government which they upheld, at the same time as that of the stadholderate.
The reply of the Estates of Holland to the strong measures taken against Elburg and Hattem was the "provisional" removal of the prince from the post of captain-general, and the recalling, on their own authority, of all troops in the pay of the province serving in the frontier fortresses (August, 1786). As the year went on the agitation grew in volume; increasing numbers were enrolled in the free corps. The complete ascendancy of the ultra-democratic patriots was proved and assured by tumultuous gatherings at Amsterdam (April 21, 1787), and a few days later at Rotterdam, compelling the Town Councils to dismiss at Amsterdam nine regents and at Rotterdam seven, suspected of Orange leanings. Holland was now entirely under patriot control; and the democrats in other districts were eagerly looking to the forces which Holland could bring into the field to protect the patriot cause from tyrannous acts of oppression by the stadholder's troops. In the summer of 1787 the forces on both sides were being mustered on the borders of the province of Utrecht, and frequent collisions had already taken place. Nothing but the prince's indecision had prevented the actual outbreak of a general civil war. At the critical moment of suspense an incident occurred, however, which was to effect a dramatic change in the situation.
William's pusillanimous attitude (he was actually talking of withdrawing from the country to Nassau) was by no means acceptable to his high-spirited wife. The princess was all for vigorous action, and she wrung from William a reluctant consent to her returning from Nijmwegen, where for security she had been residing with her family, to the Hague. In that political centre she would be in close communication with Sir J. Harris and Van de Spiegel, and would be able to organise a powerful opposition in Holland to patriot ascendancy. It was a bold move, the success of which largely depended on the secrecy with which it was carried out. On June 28 Wilhelmina started from Nijmwegen, but the commandant of the free corps at Gouda, hearing that horses were being ordered at Schoonhoven and Haasrecht for a considerable party, immediately sent to headquarters for instructions. He was told not to allow any suspicious body of persons to pass. He accordingly stopped the princess and detained her at a farm until the arrival at Woerden of the members of the Committee of Defence. By these Her Highness was treated (on learning her quality) with all respect, but she was informed that she could not proceed without the permit of the Estates of Holland. The indignant princess did not wait for the permit to arrive, but returned to Nijmwegen.
The British ambassador, Harris, at once brought the action of the Estates of Holland before the States-General and demanded satisfaction; and on July 10 a still more peremptory demand was made by the Prussian ambassador, von Thulemeyer. Frederick William II was incensed at the treatment his sister had received; and, when the Estates of Holland refused to punish the offending officials, on the ground that no insult had been intended, orders were immediately given for an army of 20,000 men under Charles, Duke of Brunswick, to cross the frontier and exact reparation. The Prussians entered in three columns and met with little opposition. Utrecht, where 7000 "patriot" volunteers were encamped, was evacuated, the whole force taking flight and retreating in disorder to Holland. Gorkum, Dordrecht, Kampen and other towns surrendered without a blow; and on September 17 Brunswick's troops entered the Hague amidst general rejoicings. The populace wore Orange favours, and the streets rang with the cry of Oranje boven. Amsterdam still held out and prepared for defence, hoping for French succour; and thither the leaders of the patriot party had fled, together with the representatives of six cities. The nobility, the representatives of eight cities, and the council-pensionary remained at the Hague, met as the Estates of Holland, repealed all the anti-Orange edicts, and invited the prince to return. Amidst scenes of great enthusiasm the stadholder made his entry into the Binnenhof on September 20. The hopes held by the patriot refugees at Amsterdam of French aid were vain, for the French government was in no position to help anyone. As soon as the Prussian army appeared before the gates, the Town Council, as in 1650, was unwilling to jeopardise the welfare of the city by armed resistance, and negotiations were opened with Brunswick. On October 3 Amsterdam capitulated, and the campaign was over.
The princess was now in a position to demand reparation for the insult she had received; and, though her terms were severe, the Estates of Holland obsequiously agreed to carry them out (October 6). She demanded the punishment of all who had taken part in her arrest, the disbanding of the free corps, and the purging of the various Town Councils of obnoxious persons. All this was done. In the middle of November the main body of the Prussians departed, but a force of 4000 men remained to assist the Dutch troops in keeping order. The English ambassador, Harris, and Van de Spiegel were the chief advisers of the now dominant Orange government; and drastic steps were taken to establish the hereditary stadholderate henceforth on a firm basis. All persons filling any office were required to swear to maintain the settlement of 1766, and to declare that "the high and hereditary dignities" conferred upon the Princes of Orange were "an essential part not only of the constitution of each province but of the whole State." An amnesty was proclaimed by the prince on November 21, but it contained so many exceptions that it led to a large number of the patriots seeking a place of refuge in foreign countries, as indeed many of the leaders had already done, chiefly in France and the Belgian Netherlands. It has been said that the exiles numbered as many as 40,000, but this is possibly an exaggeration. The victory of the Orange party was complete; but a triumph achieved by the aid of a foreign invader was dearly purchased. The Prussian troops, as they retired laden with booty after committing many excesses, left behind them a legacy of hatred.
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THE ORANGE RESTORATION. DOWNFALL OF THE REPUBLIC, 1788-1795
One of the first steps taken, after the restoration of the stadholder's power had been firmly established, was the appointment of Laurens Pieter van de Spiegel to the post of council-pensionary of Holland in place of the trimmer Bleiswijk. It was quite contrary to usage that a Zeelander should hold this the most important post in the Estates of Holland, but the influence of the princess and of Harris secured his unanimous election on December 3, 1787. Van de Spiegel proved himself to be a statesman of high capacity, sound judgment and great moderation, not unworthy to be ranked among the more illustrious occupants of his great office. He saw plainly the hopeless deadlock and confusion of the machinery of government and its need of root-and-branch revision, but he was no more able to achieve it than his predecessors. The feebleness of the stadholder, the high-handedness of the princess, and the selfish clinging of the patrician-regents to their privileged monopoly of civic power were insuperable hindrances to any attempts to interfere with the existing state of things. Such was the inherent weakness of the Republic that it was an independent State in little more than name; its form of government was guaranteed by foreign powers on whom it had to rely for its defence against external foes.
Prussia by armed force, England by diplomatic support, had succeeded in restoring the hereditary stadholderate to a predominant position in the State. It was the first care of the triumvirate, Harris, Van de Spiegel and the princess, to secure what had been achieved by bringing about a defensive alliance between the Republic, Great Britain and Prussia. After what had taken place this was not a difficult task; and two separate treaties were signed between the States-General and the two protecting powers on the same day, April 15, 1788, each of the three states undertaking to furnish a definite quota of troops, ships or money, if called upon to do so. Both Prussia and England gave a strong guarantee for the upholding of the hereditary stadholderate. This was followed by the conclusion of an Anglo-Prussian alliance directed against France and Austria (August 13). The marriage of the hereditary prince with Frederika Louise Wilhelmina of Prussia added yet another to the many royal alliances of the House of Orange; but, though it raised the prestige of the stadholder's position, it only served to make that position more dependent on the support of the foreigner.
The council-pensionary, Van de Spiegel, did all that statesman could do in these difficult times to effect reforms and bring order out of chaos. It was fortunate for the Republic that the stadholder should have discerned the merits of this eminent servant of the state and entrusted to him so largely the direction of affairs. Internally the spirit of faction had, superficially at least, been crushed by Prussian military intervention, but externally there was serious cause for alarm. Van de Spiegel watched with growing disquietude the threatening aspect of things in France, preluding the great Revolution; and still more serious was the insurrection, which the reforming zeal of Joseph II had caused to break out in the Austrian Netherlands. Joseph's personal visit to his Belgian dominions had filled him with a burning desire to sweep away the various provincial privileges and customs and to replace them by administrative uniformity. Not less was his eagerness to free education from clerical influence. He stirred up thereby the fierce opposition of clericals and democrats alike, ending in armed revolt in Brabant and elsewhere. A desultory struggle went on during the years 1787, '88 and '89, ending in January, 1790, in a meeting of the States-General at Brussels and the formation of a federal republic under the name of "the United States of Belgium." All this was very perturbing to the Dutch government, who were most anxious lest an Austrian attempt at reconquest might lead to a European conflict close to their borders. The death of Joseph on February 24, 1790, caused the danger to disappear. His brother, Leopold II, at once offered to re-establish ancient privileges, and succeeded by tact and moderation in restoring Austrian rule under the old conditions. That this result was brought about without any intervention of foreign powers was in no small measure due to a conference at the Hague, in which Van de Spiegel conducted negotiations with the representatives of Prussia, England and Austria for a settlement of the Belgian question without disturbance of the peace.
The council-pensionary found the finances of the country in a state of great confusion. One of his first cares was a re-assessment of the provincial quotas, some of which were greatly in arrears and inadequate in amount, thus throwing a disproportionate burden upon Holland. It was a difficult task, but successfully carried out. The affairs of the East and West India Companies next demanded his serious attention. Both of them were practically bankrupt.
The East India Company had, during the 18th century, been gradually on the decline. Its object was to extract wealth from Java and its other eastern possessions; and, by holding the monopoly of trade and compelling the natives to hand over to the Company's officials a proportion of the produce of the land at a price fixed by the Company far below its real value (contingent-en leverantie-stelsel), the country was drained of its resources and the inhabitants impoverished simply to increase the shareholder's dividends. This was bad enough, but it was made worse by the type of men whom the directors, all of whom belonged to the patrician regent-families, sent out to fill the posts of governor-general and the subordinate governorships. For many decades these officials had been chosen, not for their proved experience or for their knowledge of the East or of the Indian trade, but because of family connection; and the nominees went forth with the intention of enriching themselves as quickly as possible. This led to all sorts of abuses, and the profits of the Company from all these causes kept diminishing. But, in order to keep up their credit, the Board of XVII continued to pay large dividends out of capital, with the inevitable result that the Company got into debt and had to apply for help to the State. The English war completed its ruin. In June, 1783, the Estates of Holland appointed a Commission to examine into the affairs of the Company. Too many people in Holland had invested their money in it, and the Indian trade was too important, for an actual collapse of the Company to be permitted. Accordingly an advance of 8,000,000 florins was made to the directors, with a guarantee for 38,000,000 of debt. But things went from bad to worse. In 1790 the indebtedness of the Company amounted to 85,000,000 florins. Van de Spiegel and others were convinced that the only satisfactory solution would be for the State to dissolve the Company and take over the Indian possessions in full sovereignty at the cost of liquidating the debt, A commission was appointed in 1791 to proceed to the East and make a report upon the condition of the colonies. Before their mission was accomplished the French armies were overrunning the Republic. It was not till 1798 that the existence of the Company actually came to an end. To the West India Company the effect of the English war was likewise disastrous. The Guiana colonies, whose sugar plantations had been a source of great profit, had been conquered first by the English, then by the French; and, though they were restored after the war, the damage inflicted had brought the Company into heavy difficulties. Its charter expired in 1791, and it was not renewed. The colonies became colonies of the State, the shareholders being compensated by exchanging their depreciated shares for Government bonds.
The Orange restoration, however, and the efforts of Van de Spiegel to strengthen its bases by salutary reforms were doomed to be short-lived. The council-pensionary, in spite of his desire to relinquish office at the end of his quinquennial term, was reelected by the Estates of Holland on December 6, 1792, and yielded to the pressure put upon him to continue his task. A form of government, which had been imposed against their will on the patriot party by the aid of foreign bayonets, was certain to have many enemies; and such prospect of permanence as it had lay in the goodwill and confidence inspired by the statesmanlike and conciliatory policy of Van de Spiegel. But it was soon to be swept away in the cataclysm of the French Revolution now at the height of its devastating course.
In France extreme revolutionary ideas had made rapid headway, ending in the dethronement and imprisonment of the king on August 10, 1792. The invasion of France by the Prussian and Austrian armies only served to inflame the French people, intoxicated by their new-found liberty, to a frenzy of patriotism. Hastily raised armies succeeded in checking the invasion at Valmy on September 20, 1792; and in their turn invading Belgium under the leadership of Dumouriez, they completely defeated the Austrians at Jemappes on November 6. The whole of Belgium was overrun and by a decree of the French Convention was annexed. The fiery enthusiasts, into whose hands the government of the French Republic had fallen, were eager to carry by force of arms the principles of liberty, fraternity and equality to all Europe, declaring that "all governments are our enemies, all peoples are our friends." The southern Netherlands having been conquered, it was evident that the northern Republic would speedily invite attack. The Dutch government, anxious to avoid giving any cause for hostilities, had carefully abstained from offering any encouragement to the emigrants or support to the enemies of the French Republic. Van de Spiegel had even expressed to De Maulde, the French ambassador, a desire to establish friendly relations with the Republican government. But the Jacobins looked upon the United Provinces as the dependent of their enemies England and Prussia; and, when after the execution of the king the English ambassador was recalled from Paris, the National Convention immediately declared war against England and at the same time against the stadholder of Holland "because of his slavish bondage to the courts of St James and Berlin."
Dumouriez at the head of the French army prepared to enter the United Provinces at two points. The main body under his own command was to cross the Moerdijk to Dordrecht and then advance on Rotterdam, the Hague, Leyden and Haarlem. He was accompanied by the so-called Batavian legion, enlisted from the patriot exiles under Colonel Daendels, once the fiery anti-Orange advocate of Hattem. General Miranda, who was besieging Maestricht, was to march by Nijmwegen and Venloo to Utrecht. The two forces would then unite and make themselves masters of Amsterdam. The ambitious scheme miscarried. At first success attended Dumouriez. Breda fell after a feeble resistance, also De Klundert and Geertruidenberg. Meanwhile the advance of an Austrian army under Coburg relieved Maestricht and inflicted a defeat upon the French at Aldenhoven on March 1, 1793. Dumouriez, compelled to retreat, was himself beaten at Neerwinden on March 18, and withdrew to Antwerp. For the moment danger was averted. Revolutionary movements at Amsterdam and elsewhere failed to realise the hopes of the patriots, and the Dutch government was able to breathe again.
It indeed appeared that the French menace need no longer be feared. Dumouriez changed sides and, failing to induce his troops to follow him, took refuge in the enemy's camp. A powerful coalition had now been formed by the energy of Pitt against revolutionary France; and, in April, 1794, a strong English army under the Duke of York had joined Coburg. They were supported by 22,000 Dutch troops commanded by the two sons of the Prince of Orange.
New French armies, however, organised by the genius of Carnot, proved more than a match for the allied forces acting without any unity of place under slow-moving and incompetent leaders. Coburg and the Austrians were heavily defeated at Fleurus by Jourdan on June 26. York and Prince William thereupon retreated across the frontier, followed by the French under Pichegru, while another French general, Moreau, took Sluis and overran Dutch Flanders. This gave fresh encouragement to the patriot party, who in Amsterdam formed a revolutionary committee, of which the leaders were Gogel, Van Dam and Kraijenhoff. Nothing overt was done, but by means of a large number of so-called reading-societies (leesgezelschappen) secret preparations were made for a general uprising so soon as circumstances permitted, and communications were meanwhile kept up with the exiled patriots. But Pichegru, though he captured Maestricht and other towns, was very cautious in his movements and distrustful of the promises of the Amsterdam Convention that a general revolt would follow upon his entry into Holland.
In this way the year 1794 drew to its end; and, as no further help from England or Prussia could be obtained, the States-General thought it might be possible to save the Republic from the fate of Belgium by opening negotiations for peace with the enemy. Accordingly two envoys, Brantsen and Repelaer, were sent on December 16 to the French headquarters, whence they proceeded to Paris. Fearing lest their plans for an uprising should be foiled, the Amsterdam committee also despatched two representatives, Blauw and Van Dam, to Paris to counteract the envoys of Van de Spiegel, and to urge upon the French commanders an immediate offensive against Holland. The withdrawal of the remains of the English army under the Duke of York, and the setting in of a strong frost, lent force to their representations. The army of Pichegru, accompanied by Daendels and his Batavian legion, were able to cross the rivers; and Holland lay open before them. It was in vain that the two young Orange princes did their utmost to organise resistance. In January, 1795 one town after another surrendered; and on the 19th Daendels without opposition entered Amsterdam.
The revolution was completely triumphant, for on this very day the stadholder, despite the protests of his sons and the efforts of the council-pensionary, had left the country. The English government had offered to receive William V and his family; and arrangements had been quietly made for the passage across the North Sea. The princess with her daughter-in-law and grandson were the first to leave; and on January 17, 1795, William himself, on the ground that the French would never negotiate so long as he was in the country, bade farewell to the States-General and the foreign ambassadors. On the following day he embarked with his sons and household on a number of fishing-pinks at Scheveningen and put to sea. With his departure the stadholderate and the Republic of the United Netherlands came to an end.
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THE BATAVIAN REPUBLIC, 1795-1806
On January 19, 1795, Amsterdam fell into the hands of the advancing French troops. Daendels had previously caused a proclamation to be distributed which declared "that the representatives of the French people wished the Dutch nation to make themselves free; that they do not desire to oppress them as conquerors, but to ally themselves with them as with a free people." A complete change of the city government took place without any disturbance or shedding of blood. At the summons of the Revolutionary Committee the members of the Town Council left the Council Hall and were replaced by twenty-one citizens "as provisional representatives of the people of Amsterdam." Of this body Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck, a former advocate of the Council, was appointed president. The other towns, one after the other, followed in the steps of the capital. The patrician corporations were abolished and replaced by provisional municipal assemblies. Everywhere the downfall of the old regime was greeted with tumultuous joy by those large sections of the Dutch population which had imbibed revolutionary principles; and the French troops were welcomed by the "patriots" as brothers and deliverers. "Trees of Liberty," painted in the national colours, were erected in the principal squares; and the citizens, wearing "caps of liberty" danced round them hand in hand with the foreign soldiers. Feast-making, illuminations and passionate orations, telling that a new era of "liberty, fraternity and equality" had dawned for the Batavian people, were the order of the day. The Revolution was not confined to the town-corporations. At the invitation of the Amsterdam Committee and under the protection of the French representatives, deputations from fourteen towns met at the Hague on January 26. Taking possession of the Assembly Hall of the Estates of Holland and choosing as their president Pieter Paulus, a man generally respected, this Provisional Assembly proceeded to issue a series of decrees subverting all the ancient institutions of the land. The representation by Estates and the offices of stadholder and of council-pensionary were abolished. The old colleges such as the Commissioned Councillors, the Admiralties, the Chamber of Accounts, were changed into Committees for General Welfare, for War, for Marine, for Finance, etc. The other provinces in turn followed Holland's example; and the changes in the provincial administrations were then quickly extended to the States-General. These retained their name, but were now to be representative of the citizens of the whole land. The Council of State was transformed into a Committee for General Affairs; and a Colonial Council replaced the East and West India Companies and the Society of Surinam. To the Committee for General Affairs was entrusted the task of drawing up a plan for the summoning of a National Convention on March 4.