History of Holland
By George Edmundson
Public Domain Books
Chapter VIII: The Twelve Years’ Truce
The first years of the truce were for the United Provinces, now recognised as “free and independent States,” a period of remarkable energy and enterprise. The young republic started on its new career with the buoyant hopefulness that comes from the proud consciousness of suffering and dangers bravely met and overcome, and, under the wise and experienced guidance of Oldenbarneveldt, acquired speedily a position and a weight in the Councils of Europe out of all proportion to its geographical area or the numbers of its population. The far-seeing statecraft and practised diplomatic skill of the Advocate never rendered greater services to his country than during these last years of his long tenure of power. A difficult question as to the succession to the Jülich-Cleves duchies arose at the very time of the signing of the truce, which called for delicate and wary treatment.
In March, 1609, the Duke of Jülich and Cleves died without leaving a male heir, and the succession to these important border territories on the Lower Rhine became speedily a burning question. The two principal claimants through the female line were the Elector of Brandenburg and William, Count-Palatine of Neuburg. The Emperor Rudolph II, however, under the pretext of appointing imperial commissioners to adjudicate upon the rival claims, aroused the suspicions of Brandenburg and Neuburg; and these two came to an agreement to enter into joint possession of the duchies, and were styled “the possessors.” The Protestant Union at Heidelberg recognised “the possessors,” for it was all-important for the balance of power in Germany that these lands should not pass into the hands of a Catholic ruler of the House of Austria. For the same reason Brandenburg and Neuburg were recognised by the States-General, who did not wish to see a partisan of Spain established on their borders. The emperor on his part not only refused to acknowledge “the possessors,” but he also sent his cousin Archduke Leopold, Bishop of Passau, to intervene by armed force. Leopold seized the fortress of Jülich and proceeded to establish himself.
It was an awkward situation, for neither the United Provinces nor the archdukes nor the King of Spain had the smallest desire to make the Jülich succession the cause of a renewal of hostilities, immediately after the conclusion of the truce. The eagerness of the French king to precipitate hostilities with the Habsburg powers however forced their hands. Henry IV had for some time been making preparations for war, and he was at the moment irritated by the protection given by the archdukes to the runaway Princess of Condé, who had fled to Brussels. He had succeeded in persuading the States to send an auxiliary force into Germany to assist the French army of invasion in the spring of 1610, when just as the king was on the point of leaving Paris to go to the front he was assassinated on May 14. This event put an end to the expedition, for the regent, Marie de’ Medici, was friendly to Austria. The States nevertheless did not feel disposed to leave Leopold in possession of Jülich. Maurice led an army into the duchy and laid siege to the town. It capitulated on September 1. As might have been anticipated, however, the joint rule of the “possessors” did not turn out a success. They quarrelled, and Neuburg asked for Catholic help. Maurice and Spinola in 1614 found themselves again face to face at the head of rival forces, but actual hostilities were avoided; and by the treaty of Nanten (November 12, 1614) it was arranged that the disputed territory should be divided, Brandenburg ruling at Cleves, Neuburg at Jülich. Thus, in the settlement of this thorny question, the influence of Oldenbarneveldt worked for a temporary solution satisfactory to the interests of the United Provinces; nor was his successful intervention in the Jülich-Cleves affair an isolated instance of his diplomatic activity. On the contrary it was almost ubiquitous.
The growth of the Dutch trade in the Baltic had for some years been advancing by leaps and bounds, and now far exceeded that of their old rivals, the Hanseatic league. Christian IV, the ambitious and warlike King of Denmark, had been seriously interfering with this trade by imposing such heavy dues for the passage of the Sound as on the one hand to furnish him with a large revenue, and on the other hand to support his claim to sovereign rights over all traffic with the inland sea. The Hanse towns protested strongly and sought the support of the States-General in actively opposing the Danish king. It was granted. A force of 7000 men under Frederick Henry was sent into Germany to the relief of Brunswick, which was besieged by Christian IV. The siege was raised; and an alliance was concluded between the republic and the Hanse towns for common action in the protection of their commercial interests. Nor was this all. Oldenbarneveldt entered into diplomatic relations with Charles IX of Sweden and with Russia. Cornelis Haga was sent to Stockholm; and from this time forward a close intimacy was established between Sweden and the States. The seaport of Gotheborg, just outside the entrance to the Sound, was founded by a body of Dutch colonists under a certain Abraham Cabelliau, an Amsterdam merchant, and continued to be for years practically a Dutch town.
Scarcely less important was the enterprise shown in the establishment of friendly relations with distant Russia. Balthazar de Moucheron established a Dutch factory at Archangel so early as 1584; and a growing trade sprang up with Russia by way of the White Sea, at first in rivalry with the English Muscovy Company. But a Dutch merchant, by name Isaac Massa, having succeeded in gaining the ear and confidence of the Tsar, Russian commerce gradually became a Dutch monopoly. In 1614 a Muscovite embassy conducted by Massa came to the Hague, and access to the interior of Russia was opened to the traders of Holland and to them only.
In the Mediterranean no less foresight and dexterity was shown in forwarding the interests of the States. The Advocate’s son-in-law, Van der Myle, went in 1609 as ambassador to Venice; and the following year the first Venetian envoy, Tommaso Contarini, arrived in Holland. In 1612 Cornelis Haga, who had been in Sweden, was sent to Constantinople to treat with the Turks about commercial privileges in the Levant and for the suppression of piracy, and he remained in the East in charge of the republic’s interests for many years.
More difficult was the maintenance of friendly relations with England. In 1604 James I had made peace with Spain; and the growing rivalry upon the seas between the Dutch and English tended to alienate his sympathies from the rising maritime power of the republic. He outwardly maintained friendly relations; his ambassador had a seat on the Council of State; he retained his garrisons in the cautionary towns; and after the signing of the truce he bestowed the Garter upon Prince Maurice. But at this very time, May, 1609, James took a step which was most hurtful to that industry which had laid the foundation of the commercial prosperity of Holland–this was the issuing of an edict imposing a tax on all foreigners fishing in English waters. Though general in its form, this edict was really directed against the right heretofore enjoyed by the Netherlanders to fish on the English coast, a right conferred by a series of treaties and never challenged since its confirmation by the Magnus Intercursus of 1496. Dutch public opinion was strongly aroused and a special embassy was sent to London, April, 1610, to protest against the edict and endeavour to procure its withdrawal or its modification. This was by no means an easy matter. The fisheries, on which a large part of the population of Holland and Zeeland depended for their livelihood, were of vital importance to the States. On the other hand their virtual monopoly by the Dutch caused keen resentment in England. In the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth that adventurous sea-faring spirit, which was destined eventually to plant the flag of England on the shores of every ocean, had come to the birth, and everywhere it found, during this early part of the 17th century, Dutch rivals already in possession and Dutch ships on every trading route. The Dutch mercantile marine in fact far exceeded the English in numbers and efficiency. The publication of Hugo Grotius’ famous pamphlet, Mare Liberum, in March, 1609, was probably the final cause which decided James to issue his Fisheries’ proclamation. The purpose of Grotius was to claim for every nation, as against the Portuguese, freedom of trade in the Indian Ocean, but the arguments he used appeared to King James and his advisers to challenge the dominium maris, which English kings had always claimed in the “narrow seas.” The embassy of 1610, therefore, had to deal not merely with the fisheries, but with the whole subject of the maritime relations of the two countries; and a crowd of published pamphlets proves the intense interest that was aroused. But the emergence of the dispute as to the Jülich-Cleves succession, and the change in the policy of the French government owing to the assassination of Henry IV, led both sides to desire an accommodation; and James consented, not indeed to withdraw the edict, but to postpone its execution for two years. It remained a dead letter until 1616, although all the time the wranglings over the legal aspects of the questions in dispute continued. The Republic, however, as an independent State, was very much hampered by the awkward fact of the cautionary towns remaining in English hands. The occupation of Flushing and Brill, commanding the entrances to important waterways, seemed to imply that the Dutch republic was to a certain extent a vassal state under the protection of England. Oldenbarneveldt resolved therefore to take advantage of King James’ notorious financial embarrassments by offering to redeem the towns by a ready-money payment. The nominal indebtedness of the United Provinces for loans advanced by Elizabeth was £600,000; the Advocate offered in settlement £100,000 in cash and £150,000 more in half-yearly payments. James accepted the offer, and the towns were handed over, the garrisons being allowed to pass into the Dutch service, June 1616. Sir Dudley Carleton, however, who about this time succeeded Sir Ralph Winwood as English envoy at the Hague, continued to have a seat in the Council of State.
Oldenbarneveldt thus, at a time when his dominant position in the State was already being undermined and his career drawing to an end, performed a great service to his country, the more so as King James, in his eagerness to negotiate a marriage between the Prince of Wales and a Spanish infanta, was beginning to allow his policy to be more and more controlled by the Count of Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador at Whitehall. James’ leaning towards Spain naturally led him to regard with stronger disfavour the increasing predominance of the Dutch flag upon the seas, and it was not long before he was sorry that he had surrendered the cautionary towns. For the fishery rights and the principle of the dominium maris in the narrow seas were no longer the only questions in dispute between England and the States. English seamen and traders had other grievances to allege against the Hollanders in other parts of the world. The exclusive right to fish for whales in the waters of Spitsbergen and Greenland was claimed by the English on the ground of Hugh Willoughby’s alleged discovery of Spitsbergen in 1553. The Dutch would not admit any such claim, and asserted that Heemskerk was the first to visit the archipelago, and that he planted in 1596 the Dutch flag on the shores of the island, to which he gave the name of Spitsbergen. In 1613 James conferred the monopoly upon the English Muscovy Company, who sent out a fishing fleet with orders to drive off any interlopers; and certain Dutch vessels were attacked and plundered. The reply of the States-General was the granting of a charter, January 27, 1614, to a company, known as the Northern or Greenland Company, with the monopoly of fishing between Davis’ Straits and Nova Zembla; and a fishing fleet was sent out accompanied by warships. The result was a temporary agreement between the English and Dutch companies for using separate parts of Spitsbergen as their bases, all others being excluded. Meanwhile the dispute was kept open; and despite conferences and negotiations neither side showed any disposition to yield. Matters reached an acute stage in 1618. English and Dutch fishing fleets of exceptional strength sailed into the northern waters in the early summer of that year, and a fierce fight took place, which, as two Dutch war vessels were present, resulted in the scattering of the English vessels and considerable loss of life and property.
The rivalry and opposition between the Dutch and English traders in the East-Indies was on a larger scale, but here there was no question of the Dutch superiority in force, and it was used remorselessly. The Dutch East India Company had thriven apace. In 1606 a dividend of 50 per cent, had been paid; in 1609 one of 325 per cent. The chief factory was at Bantam, but there were many others on the mainland of India, and at Amboina, Banda, Ternate and Matsjan in the Moluccas; and from these centres trade was carried on with Ceylon, with Borneo and even with distant China and Japan. But the position of the company was precarious, until the secret article of the treaty of 1609 conceded liberty of trade during the truce. The chief need was to create a centre of administration, from which a general control could be exercised over all the officials at the various trading factories throughout the East-Indian archipelago. It was resolved, therefore, by the Council of Seventeen to appoint a director-general, who should reside at Bantam, armed with powers which made him, far removed as he was from interference by the home authorities, almost a sovereign in the extensive region which he administered. Jan Pieterszoon Koen, appointed in 1614, was the first of a series of capable men by whose vigorous and sometimes unscrupulous action the Dutch company became rapidly the dominant power in the eastern seas, where their trade and influence overshadowed those of their European competitors. The most enterprising of those competitors were the English. Disputes quickly arose between the rival companies as to trading rights in the Moluccas, the Banda group and Amboina; and some islands, where the English had made treaties with the natives, were occupied by the Dutch, and the English expelled.
Another grievance was the refusal of the States-General in 1616 to admit English dyed cloths into the United Provinces. This had caused especial irritation to King James. The manufacture of woollen cloth and the exportation of wool had for long been the chief of English industries; and the monopoly of the trade was, when James ascended the throne, in the hands of the oldest of English chartered companies, the Fellowship of Merchant Adventurers. The Adventurers held since 1598 their Court and Staple at Middelburg in Zeeland. The English had not learnt the art of finishing and dyeing the cloth that they wove; it was imported in its unfinished state, and was then dyed and prepared for commerce by the Dutch. Some thousands of skilled hands found employment in Holland in this work. James, always impecunious, determined in 1608, on the proposal of a certain Alderman Cockayne, to grant Cockayne a patent for the creation of a home-dyeing industry, reserving to the crown a monopoly for the sale of the goods. The Adventurers complained of this as a breach of their charter; and, after much bickering, the king in 1615 settled the dispute by withdrawing the charter. Cockayne now hoped that the company he had formed would be a profitable concern, but he and the king were doomed to disappointment. The Estates of Holland refused to admit the English dyed cloths, and their example was followed by the other provinces and by the States-General. Cockayne became bankrupt, and in 1617 the king had to renew the charter of the Adventurers. James was naturally very sore at this rebuff, and he resolved upon reprisals by enforcing the proclamation of 1609 and exacting a toll from all foreign vessels fishing in British waters. Great was the indignation in Holland, and the fishing fleet in 1617 set sail with an armed convoy. A Scottish official named Browne, who came to collect the toll, was seized and carried as a prisoner to Holland. James at once laid hands on two Dutch skippers in the Thames, as hostages, and demanded satisfaction for the outrage upon his officer. Neither side would at first give way, and it was not until after some months that an accommodation was patched up. The general question of the fishery privileges remained however just as far from settlement as ever, for the States stood firm upon their treaty rights. At length it was resolved by the States to send a special mission to England to discuss with the king the four burning questions embittering the relations between the two countries. The envoys arrived in London, December, 1618. For seven months the parleyings went on without any definite result being reached, and in August, 1619, the embassy returned. Very important events had meanwhile been occurring both in the United Provinces and in Germany, which made it necessary to both parties that the decision on these trade questions, important as they were, should be postponed for awhile, as they were overshadowed by the serious political crises in Holland and in Bohemia, which were then occupying all men’s attention.