History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter X: From the End of the Twelve Years’ Truce to the Peace of Muenster

From the End of the Twelve Years’ Truce to the Peace of Muenster (1621-48). The Stadholderate of Frederick Henry of Orange

Civil disturbances and religious persecutions were not the only causes of anxiety to the political leaders in the United Provinces during the crisis of 1618-19; foreign affairs were also assuming a menacing aspect. The year 1618 saw the opening in Germany of the Thirty Years’ War. The acceptance of the Crown of Bohemia by Frederick, Elector Palatine, meant that the long-delayed struggle for supremacy between Catholics and Protestants was to be fought out; and it was a struggle which neither Spain nor the Netherlands could watch with indifference. Maurice was fully alive to the necessity of strengthening the defences of the eastern frontier; and subsidies were granted by the States-General to Frederick and also to some of the smaller German princes. This support would have been larger, but the unexpected refusal of James I to give aid to his son-in-law made the Dutch doubtful in their attitude. The States, though friendly, were unwilling to commit themselves. In the spring of 1620, however, by James’ permission, the English regiments in the Dutch service under the command of Sir Horace Vere were sent to oppose Spinola’s invasion of the Rhineland. Accompanied by a Dutch force under Frederick Henry, they reached the Palatinate, but it was too late. The fate of the King of Bohemia was soon to be decided elsewhere than in his hereditary dominions. Completely defeated at the battle of Prague, Frederick with his wife and family fled to Holland to seek the protection of their cousin, the Prince of Orange. They met with the most generous treatment at his hands, and they were for many years to make the Hague the home of their exile.

As the date at which the Twelve Years’ Truce came to an end drew near, some efforts were made to avert war. There were advocates of peace in the United Provinces, especially in Gelderland and Overyssel, the two provinces most exposed to invasion.

The archdukes had no desire to re-open hostilities; and Pecquinius, the Chancellor of Brabant, was sent to the Hague to confer with Maurice, and was authorised to name certain conditions for the conclusion of a peace. These conditions proved, however, to be wholly unacceptable, and the early summer of 1621 saw Maurice and Spinola once more in the field at the head of rival armies. The operations were, however, dilatory and inconclusive. The stadholder now, and throughout his last campaigns, was no longer physically the same man as in the days when his skilful generalship had saved the Dutch republic from overthrow; he had lost the brilliant energy of youth. The deaths in the course of this same year, 1621, of both the Archduke Albert and Philip III of Spain, were also hindrances to the vigorous prosecution of the war. In 1622 there was much marching and counter-marching, and Maurice was successful in compelling Spinola to raise the siege of Bergen-op-Zoom, the last success he was destined to achieve. In the course of this year the prince’s life was in serious danger. A plot was laid to assassinate him on his way to Ryswyck, the leading conspirator being William van Stoutenberg, the younger son of Oldenbarneveldt. Stoutenberg had, in 1619, been deprived of his posts and his property confiscated, and he wished to avenge his father’s death and his own injuries. The plot was discovered, but Stoutenberg managed to escape and took service under the Archduchess Isabel. Unfortunately he had implicated his elder brother, Regnier, lord of Groeneveldt, in the scheme. Groeneveldt was seized and brought to the scaffold.

From this time nothing but misfortune dogged the steps of Maurice, whose health began to give way under the fatigues of campaigning. In 1623 a carefully planned expedition against Antwerp, which he confidently expected to succeed, was frustrated by a long continuance of stormy weather. Spinola in the following year laid siege to Breda. This strongly fortified town, an ancestral domain of the Princes of Orange, had a garrison of 7000 men. The Spanish commander rapidly advancing completely invested it. Maurice, who had been conducting operations on the eastern frontier, now hastened to Breda, and did his utmost by cutting off Spinola’s own supplies to compel him to raise the blockade. All his efforts however failed, and after holding out for many months Breda surrendered. In the spring of 1625 the prince became so seriously ill that he asked the States-General to appoint his brother commander-in-chief in his stead. Feeling his end drawing near, Maurice’s chief wish was to see Frederick Henry married before his death. Frederick Henry, like Maurice himself, had never shown any inclination for wedlock and there was no heir to the family. He had, however, been attracted by the Countess Amalia von Solms, a lady of the suite of Elizabeth of Bohemia. Under pressure from the dying man the preliminaries were speedily arranged, and the wedding was quietly celebrated on April 4. Though thus hastily concluded, the marriage proved to be in every way a thoroughly happy one. Amalia was throughout his life to be the wise adviser of her husband and to exercise no small influence in the conduct of public affairs. Maurice died on April 23, in the fifty-eighth year of his age. His forty years of continuous and strenuous service to the State had made him prematurely old; and there can be but little doubt that the terrible anxieties of the crisis of 1618-19 told upon him. Above all a feeling of remorse for his share in the tragedy of Oldenbarneveldt’s death preyed upon his mind.

The new Prince of Orange succeeded to a difficult position, but he was endowed with all the qualities of a real leader of men. Forty-one years old and brought up from boyhood in camps under the eye of his brother, Frederick Henry was now to show that he was one of the most accomplished masters of the military art, and especially siege-craft, in an age of famous generals, for Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, Torstenson, Turenne, Charles Gustavus and the Great Elector were all trained in his school. He was, however, much more than an experienced and resourceful commander in the field. He inherited much of his father’s wary and tactful statesmanship and skill in diplomacy. He was, moreover, deservedly popular. He was a Hollander born and bred, and his handsome face, chivalrous bearing, and conciliatory genial temper, won for him an influence, which for some years was to give him almost undisputed predominance in the State. To quote the words of a contemporary, Van der Capellen, “the prince in truth disposed of everything as he liked; everything gave way to his word.”

The offices and dignities held by Maurice were at once conferred on Frederick Henry. He was elected Stadholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel, and was appointed Captain-General and Admiral-General of the Union and head of the Council of State. During practically the whole of his life the prince spent a considerable part of the year in camp, but he was able all the time to keep in touch with home affairs, and to exercise a constant supervision and control of the foreign policy of the State by the help of his wife, and through the services of Francis van Aerssens. The Court of the Princess of Orange, graced as it was by the presence of the exiled King and Queen of Bohemia, was brilliant and sumptuous, and gave to the reality of power possessed by the stadholder more than a semblance of sovereign pomp. During her husband’s absence she spared no pains to keep him well-acquainted with all the currents and under-currents of action and opinion at the Hague, and was not only able to give sound advice, but was quite ready, when necessity called, to meet intrigue with intrigue and render abortive any movements or schemes adverse to the prince’s policy or authority. The obligations of Frederick Henry to Aerssens were even greater. The stadholder was at first suspicious of the man, whom he disliked for the leading part he had taken against Oldenbarneveldt. But he did not allow personal prejudice to prevent him from employing a diplomatist of Aerssens’ experience and capacity, and, with acquaintance, he learned to regard him, not merely as a clever and wise councillor, but as a confidential friend.

The right conduct of foreign affairs was of peculiar importance at the moment, when Frederick Henry became stadholder, for a change of régime took place almost simultaneously both in France and England. In Paris Cardinal Richelieu had just laid firm hands upon the reins of power, and the timorous and feeble James I died in the autumn of 1625. Richelieu and Charles I were both hostile to Spain, and the republic had reason to hope for something more than friendly neutrality in the coming years of struggle with the united forces of the two Habsburg monarchies.

One of the chief difficulties which confronted the new stadholder was the religious question. The prince himself, as was well known, was inclined to Remonstrant opinions. He was, however, anxious not to stir up the smouldering embers of sectarian strife, and he made no effort to withdraw the placards against the Remonstrants, but confined himself to moderate in practice their severity. He recalled from exile Van der Myle, Oldenbarneveldt’s son-in-law; made Nicholas van Reigersberg, De Groot’s brother-in-law, a member of the council; and released Hoogerbeets from his captivity at Loevestein. When, however, De Groot himself, presuming on the stadholder’s goodwill, ventured to return to Holland without permission, the prince refused to receive him and he was ordered to leave the country once more.

The year 1626 was marked by no events of military importance; both sides were in lack of funds and no offensive operations were undertaken. Much rejoicing, however, attended the birth of a son and heir to the Prince of Orange, May 27. The child received the name of William. Early in the following year Sir Dudley Carleton, as envoy-extraordinary of King Charles I, invested Frederick Henry at the Hague with the Order of the Garter. This high distinction was not, however, a mark of really friendlier relations between the two countries. The long-standing disputes as to fishing rights in the narrow seas and at Spitsbergen, and as to trading spheres in the East Indian Archipelago, remained unsettled; and in the unfortunate and ill-considered war, which broke out at this time between England and France, the sympathies of the States were with the latter. Already those close relations between the French and the Dutch, which for the next decade were to be one of the dominating factors in determining the final issue of the Thirty Years’ War, were by the diplomatic efforts of Richelieu and of Aerssens being firmly established. France advanced to the States a large subsidy by the aid of which the stadholder was enabled to take the field at the head of a really fine army and to give to the world a brilliant display of his military abilities. Throughout his stadholderate the persistent aim which Frederick Henry held before himself was never aggression with a view to conquest, but the creation of a scientific frontier, covered by strong fortresses, within which the flat lands behind the defensive lines of the great rivers could feel reasonably secure against sudden attack. It was with this object that in 1629 he determined to lay siege to the town of Hertogenbosch. A force of 24,000 infantry and 4000 cavalry were gathered together for the enterprise. It was composed of many nationalities, like all the armies commanded by Maurice and Frederick Henry, but was admirably disciplined and devoted to its commander. Four English, three Scottish and four French regiments, all choice troops, raised by permission of their sovereigns for the service of the States, formed the backbone of the force. On April 30 the town was invested.

Hertogenbosch, or Bois-le-duc, was strongly fortified, and so surrounded by marshy ground, intersected by a number of small streams, that the only way of approach for a besieging force was a single causeway defended by the forts of St Isabella and St Anthony. The garrison consisted of 8000 men, and the governor, Grobendonc, was an experienced and resolute soldier.

The stadholder began by surrounding the town with a double line of circumvallation. The marshes were crossed by dykes, and two streams were dammed so as to fill a broad deep moat round the lines and flood the country outside. Other lines, three miles long, connected the investing lines with the village of Crèvecceur on the Meuse, Frederick Henry’s base of supplies, which were brought by water from Holland. These works completed, approaches were at once opened against the forts of St Anthony and St Isabella, the task being entrusted to the English and French troops. The court of Brussels now began to take serious measures for relieving the town. At first regarding Bolduc la pucelle as impregnable, they had been pleased to hear that the prince had committed himself to an enterprise certain to be a dismal failure. Then came the news of the circumvallation, and with it alarm. The Count de Berg was therefore ordered (June 17) at the head of an army of 30,000 foot and 7000 horse to advance into North Brabant and raise the siege. But the stadholder was prepared and ceaselessly on his guard; and the Spanish general, after several vain attempts, found the Dutch lines unassailable. With the view of compelling Frederick Henry to follow him, Berg now marched into the heart of the United Provinces, devastating as he went with fire and sword, took Amersfoort and threatened Amsterdam. But the prince confined himself to despatching a small detached force of observation; and meanwhile a happy stroke, by which a certain Colonel Dieden surprised and captured the important frontier fortress of Wesel, forced the Spaniards to retreat, for Wesel was Berg’s depot of supplies and munitions.

While all this was going on the Prince of Orange had been pushing forward the siege operations. On July 17 the forts of St Isabella and St Anthony were stormed. The attack against the main defences, in which the English regiments specially distinguished themselves, was now pressed with redoubled vigour. The resistance at every step was desperate, but at last the moat was crossed and a lodgment effected within the walls. On September 14 Hertogenbosch surrendered; and the virgin fortress henceforth became the bulwark of the United Provinces against Spanish attack on this side. The consummate engineering skill, with which the investment had been carried out, attracted the attention of all Europe to this famous siege. It was a signal triumph and added greatly to the stadholder’s popularity and influence in the republic.

It was needed. The Estates of Holland were at this time once more refractory. The interests of this great commercial and maritime province differed from those of the other provinces of the Union; and it bore a financial burden greater than that of all the others put together. The Estates, then under the leadership of Adrian Pauw, the influential pensionary of Amsterdam, declined to raise the quota of taxation assigned to the province for military needs and proceeded to disband a number of troops that were in their pay. Inconsistently with this action they declined to consider certain proposals for peace put forward by the Infanta Isabel, for they would yield nothing on the questions of liberty of worship or of freedom to trade in the Indies. Their neglect to furnish the requisite supplies for the war, however, prevented the prince from undertaking any serious military operations in 1630. Fortunately the other side were in no better case financially, while the death of Spinola and the withdrawal of the Count de Berg from the Spanish service deprived them of their only two competent generals. This attitude of Holland, though it thwarted the stadholder’s plans and was maintained in opposition to his wishes, by no means however implied any distrust of him or lack of confidence in his leadership. This was conclusively proved by the passing, at the instigation of Holland, of the Acte de Survivance (April 19,1631). This Act declared all the various offices held by the prince hereditary in the person of his five-year-old son. He thus became, in all but name, a constitutional sovereign.

An expedition planned for the capture of Dunkirk at this time, spring 1631, proved too hazardous and was abandoned, but later in the year the Dutch sailors gave a signal proof of their superiority at sea. Encouraged by the failure of the attempted attack on Dunkirk the government at Brussels determined on a counter-stroke. A flotilla of 35 frigates, accompanied by a large number of smaller vessels to carry supplies and munitions and having on board a body of 6000 soldiers, set sail from Antwerp under the command of Count John of Nassau (a cousin of the stadholder) and in the presence of Isabel herself to effect the conquest of some of the Zeeland islands. As soon as the news reached Frederick Henry, detachments of troops were at once despatched to various points; and about a dozen vessels were rapidly equipped and ordered to follow the enemy and if possible bring him to action. A landing at Terscholen was foiled by Colonel Morgan, who, at the head of 2000 English troops, waded across a shallow estuary in time to prevent a descent. At last (September 12) the Dutch ships managed to come up with their adversaries in the Slaak near the island of Tholen. They at once attacked and though so inferior in numbers gained a complete victory. Count John of Nassau just contrived to escape, but his fleet was destroyed and 5000 prisoners were taken.

The year 1632 witnessed a renewal of military activity and was memorable for the famous siege and capture of Maestricht. This fortress held the same commanding position on the eastern frontier as Hertogenbosch on the southern; and, though its natural position was not so strong as the capital of North Brabant, Maestricht, lying as it did on both sides of the broad Meuse, and being strongly fortified and garrisoned, was very difficult to invest. The stadholder, at the head of a force of 17,000 infantry and 4000 horse, first made himself master of Venloo and Roeremonde and then advanced upon Maestricht. Unfortunately before Roeremonde, Ernest Casimir, the brave stadholder of Friesland and Groningen, was killed. He was succeeded in his offices by his son, Henry Casimir. Arriving (June 10) before Maestricht, Frederick Henry proceeded to erect strongly entrenched lines of circumvallation round the town connecting them above and below the town by bridges. Supplies reached him plentifully by the river. To the English and French regiments were once more assigned the place of honour in the attack. All went well until July 2, when Don Gonzales de Cordova led a superior Spanish force from Germany, consisting of 18,000 foot and 6000 horse, to raise the siege, and encamped close to the Dutch lines on the south side of the river. Finding however no vulnerable spot, he awaited the arrival at the beginning of August of an Imperialist army of 12,000 foot and 4000 horse, under the renowned Pappenheim. This impetuous leader determined upon an assault, and the Dutch entrenchments were attacked suddenly with great vigour at a moment when the prince was laid up with the gout. He rose, however, from his bed, personally visited all the points of danger, and after desperate fighting the assailants were at last driven off with heavy loss. The Spaniards and Imperialists, finding that the stadholder’s lines could not be forced, instituted a blockade, so that the besiegers were themselves besieged. But Frederick Henry had laid up such ample stores of munitions and provisions that he paid no heed to the cutting of his communications, and pushed on his approaches with the utmost rapidity. All difficulties were overcome by the engineering skill of the scientific commander; and finally two tunnels sixty feet deep were driven under the broad dry moat before the town walls. The English regiments during these operations bore the brunt of the fighting and lost heavily, Colonels Harwood and the Earl of Oxford being killed and Colonel Morgan dangerously wounded. After exploding a mine, a forlorn hope of fifty English troops rushed out from one of the tunnels and made good their footing upon the ramparts. Others followed, and the garrison, fearing that further resistance might entail the sacking of the town, surrendered (August 23) with honours of war.

One result of the fall of Maestricht was a renewal on the part of the Archduchess Isabel of negotiations for peace or a long truce. On the authority of Frederick Henry’s memoirs the terms first offered to him in camp were favourable and might have been accepted. When, however, the discussion was shifted to the Hague, the attitude of the Belgic representatives had stiffened. The cause was not far to seek, for on November 6, 1632 the ever-victorious Gustavus Adolphus had fallen in the hour of triumph in the fatal battle of Lützen. The death of the Swedish hero was a great blow to the Protestant cause and gave fresh heart to the despondent Catholic alliance. The negotiations dragged however their slow length along, the chief point of controversy being the old dispute about freedom to trade in the Indies. On this point agreement was impossible. Spain would yield nothing of her pretensions; and the Hollanders would hear of no concessions that threatened the prosperity of the East and West India Companies in which so many merchants and investors were deeply interested. Any admission of a Spanish monopoly or right of exclusion would have spelt ruin to thousands. The diplomatic discussions, however, went on for many months in a desultory and somewhat futile manner; and meanwhile though hostilities did not actually cease, the campaign of 1633 was conducted in a half-hearted fashion. The death of Isabel on November 29, 1633, shattered finally any hopes that the peace party in the Provinces (for there was a strong peace party) might have had of arriving at any satisfactory agreement. By the decease of the arch-duchess, who had been a wise and beneficent ruler and had commanded the respect and regard not only of her own subjects but of many northerners also, the Belgic provinces reverted to the crown of Spain and passed under the direct rule of Philip IV. The Cardinal Infante Ferdinand, fresh from his crushing victory over the Swedes at Nördlingen, came as governor to Brussels in 1634, at the head of considerable Spanish forces, and an active renewal of the war in 1635 was clearly imminent.

In these circumstances Frederick Henry determined to enter into negotiations with France for the conclusion of an offensive and defensive alliance against Spain, the common enemy. He had many difficulties to encounter. The Estates of Holland, though opposed to the terms actually offered by the Brussels government, were also averse to taking any step which shut the door upon hopes of peace. Richelieu on his side, though ready, as before, to grant subsidies and to permit the enrolment of French regiments for the Dutch service, shrank from committing France to an open espousal of the Protestant side against the Catholic powers. The stadholder, however, was not deterred by the obstacles in his way; and the diplomatic skill and adroitness of Aerssens, aided by his own tact and firmness of will, overcame the scruples of Richelieu. The opposition of the Estates of Holland, without whose consent no treaty could be ratified, was likewise surmounted. Adrian Pauw, their leader, was despatched on a special embassy to Paris, and in his absence his influence was undermined, and Jacob Cats was appointed Council-Pensionary in his stead. In the spring of 1635 a firm alliance was concluded between France and the United Provinces, by which it was agreed that neither power should make peace without the consent of the other, each meanwhile maintaining a field force of 25,000 foot and 5000 horse and dividing conquests in the Southern Netherlands between them. This treaty was made with the concurrence and strong approval of the Swedish Chancellor, Oxenstierna, and was probably decisive in its effect upon the final issue of the Thirty Years’ War.

In the early spring of 1635, therefore, a French force entered the Netherlands and, after defeating Prince Thomas of Savoy at Namur, joined the Dutch army at Maestricht. Louis XIII had given instructions to the French commanders, Châtillon and de Brézé, to place themselves under the orders of the Prince of Orange; and Frederick Henry at the head of 32,000 foot and 9000 horse now entered the enemy’s territory and advanced to the neighbourhood of Louvain. Here however, owing to the outbreak of disease among his troops, to lack of supplies and to differences of opinion with his French colleagues, the prince determined to retreat. His action was attended by serious results. His adversary, the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand, was a wary and skilful general. He now seized his opportunity, rapidly made himself master of Diest, Gennep, Goch and Limburg, and took by surprise the important fort of Schenck at the junction of the Waal and the Rhine. Vexed at the loss of a stronghold which guarded two of the main waterways of the land, the stadholder at once laid siege to Schenck. But the Spanish garrison held out obstinately all through the winter and did not surrender until April 26,1636. The Dutch army had suffered much from exposure and sickness during this long investment and was compelled to abstain for some months from active operations. Ferdinand thereupon, as soon as he saw that there was no immediate danger of an attack from the north, resolved to avenge himself upon the French for the part they had taken in the preceding year’s campaign. Reinforced by a body of Imperialist troops under Piccolomini he entered France and laid the country waste almost to the gates of Paris. This bold stroke completely frustrated any plans that the allies may have formed for combined action in the late summer.

The following year the States determined, somewhat against the wishes of Frederick Henry, to send an expedition into Flanders for the capture of Dunkirk. This was done at the instance of the French ambassador, Charnacé, acting on the instructions of Richelieu, who promised the assistance of 5000 French troops and undertook, should the town be taken, to leave it in the possession of the Dutch. The stadholder accordingly assembled (May 7) an army of 14,000 foot and a considerable body of horse at Rammekens, where a fleet lay ready for their transport to Flanders. Contrary winds, however, continued steadily to blow for many weeks without affording any opportunity for putting to sea. At last, wearied out with the long inaction and its attendant sickness the prince (July 20) suddenly broke up his camp and marched upon Breda. Spinola, after capturing Breda in 1625, had greatly strengthened its defences; and now, with a garrison of 4000 men under a resolute commander, it was held to be secure against any attack. The siege was a repetition of those of Hertogenbosch and Maestricht. In vain did the Cardinal Infante with a powerful force try to break through the lines of circumvallation, which the prince had constructed with his usual skill. Called away by a French invasion on the south, he had to leave Breda to its fate. The town surrendered on October 10.

During the years 1637 and 1638 the ever-recurring dissensions between the province of Holland and the Generality became acute once more. The Provincial Estates insisted on their sovereign rights and refused to acknowledge the authority of the States-General to impose taxes upon them. This opposition of Holland was a great hindrance to the prince in the conduct of the war, and caused him constant anxiety and worry. It was impossible to plan or to carry out a campaign without adequate provision being made for the payment and maintenance of the military and naval forces, and this depended upon Holland’s contribution. Amsterdam was the chief offender. On one occasion a deputation sent to Amsterdam from the States-General was simply flouted. The burgomaster refused to summon the council together, and the members of the deputation had to return without an audience. All the prince’s efforts to induce the contumacious city to consider his proposals in a reasonable and patriotic spirit were of no avail; they were rejected insultingly. In his indignation Frederick Henry is reported to have exclaimed, “I have no greater enemy, but if only I could take Antwerp, it would bring them to their senses.”

The immense and growing prosperity of Amsterdam at this time was indeed mainly due to the fall of Antwerp from its high estate. To reconquer Antwerp had indeed long been a favourite project of Frederick Henry. In 1638 he made careful and ample preparations for its realisation. But it was not to be. Misfortune this year was to dog his steps. The advance was made in two bodies. The larger under the prince was to march straight to Antwerp. The second, of 6000 men, commanded by Count William of Nassau, was instructed to seize some outlying defences on the Scheldt before joining the main force before the town. Count William began well, but, hearing a false rumour that a fleet was sailing up the Scheldt to intercept his communications, he hastily retreated. While his ranks were in disorder he was surprised by a Spanish attack, and practically his entire force was cut to pieces. On hearing of this disaster the stadholder had no alternative but to abandon the siege.

Constant campaigning and exposure to the hardships of camp life year after year began at this time seriously to affect the health of the stadholder. He was much troubled by attacks of gout, which frequently prevented him from taking his place in the field. In 1639 there were no military events of importance; nevertheless this year was a memorable one in the annals of the Dutch republic.

It was the year of the battle of the Downs. A great effort was made by Spain to re-establish her naval supremacy in the narrow seas, and the finest fleet that had left the harbours of the peninsula since 1588 arrived in the Channel in September, 1639. It consisted of seventy-seven vessels carrying 24,000 men, sailors and soldiers, and was under the command of an experienced and capable seaman, Admiral Oquendo. His orders were to drive the Dutch fleet from the Channel and to land 10,000 men at Dunkirk as a reinforcement for the Cardinal Infante. Admiral Tromp had been cruising up and down the Channel for some weeks on the look-out for the Spaniards, and on September 16 he sighted the armada. He had only thirteen vessels with him, the larger part of his fleet having been detached to keep watch and ward over Dunkirk. With a boldness, however, that might have been accounted temerity, Tromp at once attacked the enemy and with such fury that the Spanish fleet sought refuge under the lee of the Downs and anchored at the side of an English squadron under Vice-Admiral Pennington. Rejoined by seventeen ships from before Dunkirk, the Dutch admiral now contented himself with a vigilant blockade, until further reinforcements could reach him. Such was the respect with which he had inspired the Spaniards, that no attempt was made to break the blockade; and in the meantime Tromp had sent urgent messages to Holland asking the Prince of Orange and the admiralties to strain every nerve to give him as many additional ships as possible. The request met with a ready and enthusiastic response. In all the dockyards work went on with relays of men night and day. In less than a month Tromp found himself at the head of 105 sail with twelve fire-ships. They were smaller ships than those of his adversary, but they were more than enough to ensure victory. On October 21, after detaching Vice-Admiral Witte de with 30 ships to watch Pennington’s squadron, Tromp bore down straight upon the Spanish fleet though they were lying in English waters. Rarely has there been a naval triumph more complete. Under cover of a fog Oquendo himself with seven vessels escaped to Dunkirk; all the rest were sunk, burnt, or captured. It is said that 15,000 Spaniards perished. On the side of the Dutch only 100 men were killed and wounded. The Spanish power at sea had suffered a blow from which it never recovered.

Charles I was very angry on learning that English ships had been obliged to watch the fleet of a friendly power destroyed in English waters before their eyes. The king had inherited from his father a long series of grievances against the Dutch; and, had he not been involved in serious domestic difficulties, there would probably have been a declaration of war. But Charles’ finances did not permit him to take a bold course, and he was also secretly irritated with the Spaniards for having sought the hospitality of English waters (as written evidence shows) without his knowledge and permission. Aerssens was sent to London to smooth over the matter. He had no easy task, but by skill and patience he contrived, in spite of many adverse influences at the court, so to allay the bitter feelings that had been aroused by “the scandal of the Downs” that Charles and his queen were willing, in the early months of 1640, to discuss seriously the project of a marriage between the stadholder’s only son and one of the English princesses. In January a special envoy, Jan van der Kerkoven, lord of Heenvlict, joined Aerssens with a formal proposal for the hand of the princess royal; and after somewhat difficult negotiations the marriage was at length satisfactorily arranged. The ceremony took place in London, May 12, 1641. As William was but fifteen years of age and Mary, the princess royal, only nine, the bridegroom returned to Holland alone, leaving the child-bride for a time at Whitehall with her parents. The wedding took place at an ominous time. Ten days after it was celebrated Strafford was executed; and the dark shadow of the Great Rebellion was already hanging over the ill-fated Charles. In the tragic story of the House of Stewart that fills the next two decades there is perhaps no more pathetic figure than that of Mary, the mother of William III. At the time this alliance gave added lustre to the position of the Prince of Orange, both at home and abroad, by uniting his family in close bonds of relationship with the royal houses both of England and France.

In 1640, as the Spaniards remained on the defensive, the stadholder entered Flanders and by a forced march attempted to seize Bruges. His effort, however, was foiled, as was a later attempt to capture Hulst, when Frederick Henry and the States sustained a great loss in the death of the gallant Henry Casimir of Nassau, who was killed in a chance skirmish at the age of 29 years. This regrettable event caused a vacancy in the stadholderates of Friesland and Groningen with Drente. A number of zealous adherents of the House of Orange were now anxious that Frederick Henry should fill the vacant posts to the exclusion of his cousin, William Frederick, younger brother of Henry Casimir. They urged upon the prince, who was himself unwilling to supplant his relative, that it was for the good of the State that there should be a unification of authority in his person; and at last he expressed himself ready to accept the offices, if elected. The result of the somewhat mean intrigues that followed, in which Frederick Henry himself took no part, gave a curious illustration of the extreme jealousy of the provinces towards anything that they regarded as outside intrusion into their affairs. The States-General ventured to recommend the Estates of Friesland to appoint the Prince of Orange; the recommendation was resented, and William Frederick became stadholder. The Frieslanders on their part sent a deputation to Groningen in favour of William Frederick, and Groningen-Drente elected the Prince of Orange. This dispute caused an estrangement for a time between the two branches of the House of Nassau, which was afterwards healed by the marriage of the Friesland stadholder with Albertine Agnes, a daughter of Frederick Henry. From this union the present royal family of Holland trace their descent.

The military operations of the years 1641, 1642 and 1643 were dilatory and featureless. Both sides were sick of the war and were content to remain on the defensive. This was no doubt largely due to the fact that in rapid succession death removed from the stage many of those who had long played leading parts in the political history of the times. Aerssens died shortly after his return from his successful mission to England in the autumn of 1641; and almost at the same time the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand, who during his tenure of the governor-generalship had shown great capacity and prudence both as a statesman and as a commander, expired. In 1642, after eighteen years of almost autocratic rule, Richelieu passed away, his death (December 4, 1642) coming almost half-way between those of his enemy, the intriguing Marie de’ Medici (July 3,1642), and that of her son, Louis XIII (May 18, 1643). Anne of Austria, the sister of the King of Spain, became regent in France; but this did not imply any change of policy with regard to the United Provinces, for Cardinal Mazarin, who, through his influence over the regent succeeded to the power of Richelieu, was a pupil in the school of that great statesman and followed in his steps. Moreover, during this same period the outbreak of civil war in England had for the time being caused that country to be wholly absorbed in its own domestic concerns, and it ceased to have any weight in the councils of western Europe. Thus it came to pass that there was a kind of lull in the external affairs of the United Provinces; and her statesmen were compelled to take fresh stock of their position in the changed situation that had been created.

Not that this meant that these years were a time of less pressure and anxiety to the Prince of Orange. His new relations with the English royal family were a source of difficulty to him. Henrietta Maria (March, 1642) came to Holland, bringing with her the princess royal, and for a whole year took up her residence at the Hague. She was received with kindliness and courtesy not only by the stadholder and his family, but by the people of Holland generally. Her presence, together with that of the Queen of Bohemia, at the Princess of Orange’s court gave to it quite a regal dignity and splendour, which was particularly gratifying to Amalia von Solms. But the English queen had other objects in view than those of courtesy. She hoped not merely to enlist the sympathies of Frederick Henry for the royal cause in the English civil war, but to obtain through his help supplies of arms and munitions from Holland for King Charles. But in this she did not succeed. The Parliament had sent an envoy, William Strickland, to counteract the influence of Henrietta Maria, and to represent to the States-General that it was fighting in defence of the same principles which had led to the revolt against Spain. The prince was far too prudent to allow his personal inclinations to override his political judgment as a practical statesman. He knew that public opinion in the United Provinces would never sanction in any form active support of King Charles against his parliament, and he did not attempt it. Intervention was confined to the despatch of an embassy to England with instructions to mediate between the two parties. When the unfortunate queen found that all her efforts on behalf of King Charles were in vain, she determined to leave the safe refuge where she had been so hospitably entertained and to return to her husband’s side. She sailed from Scheveningen on March 9, 1643, and reached the royal camp at York in safety.

In the autumn of this year, 1643, two special envoys were sent by Cardinal Mazarin to the Hague; and one of the results of their visit was a renewal of the treaty of 1635 by which France and the United Provinces had entered upon an offensive and defensive alliance and had agreed to conclude no peace but by mutual consent. Nevertheless Frederick Henry, whom long experience had made wary and far-sighted, had been growing for some little time suspicious of the advantage to the republic of furthering French aggrandisement in the southern Netherlands. He saw that France was a waxing, Spain a waning power, and he had no desire to see France in possession of territory bordering on the United Provinces. This feeling on his part was possibly the cause of the somewhat dilatory character of his military operations in 1641 and 1642. The revolt of Portugal from Spain in December, 1640, had at first been welcomed by the Dutch, but not for long. The great and successful operations of the East and West India Companies had been chiefly carried on at the expense of the Portuguese, not of the Spaniards. The great obstacle to peace with Spain had been the concession of the right to trade in the Indies. It was Portugal, rather than Spain, which now stood in the way of the Dutch merchants obtaining that right, for the Spanish government, in its eagerness to stamp out a rebellion which had spread from the Peninsula to all the Portuguese colonies, was quite ready to sacrifice these to secure Dutch neutrality in Europe. The dazzling victory of the French under the young Duke of Enghien over a veteran Spanish army at Rocroi (May, 1643) also had its effect upon the mind of the prince. With prophetic foresight, he rightly dreaded a France too decisively victorious. In the negotiations for a general peace between all the contending powers in the Thirty Years’ War, which dragged on their slow length from 1643 to 1648, the stadholder became more and more convinced that it was in the interest of the Dutch to maintain Spain as a counterpoise to the growing power of France, and to secure the favourable terms, which, in her extremity, Spain would be ready to offer.

At first, however, there was no breach in the close relations with France; and Frederick Henry, though hampered by ill-health, showed in his last campaigns all his old skill in siege-craft. By the successive captures of Hertogenbosch, Maestricht and Breda he had secured the frontiers of the republic in the south and south-east. He now turned to the north-west corner of Flanders. In 1644 he took the strongly fortified post of Sas-van-Gent, situated on the Ley, the canalised river connecting Ghent with the Scheldt. In 1645 he laid siege to and captured the town of Hulst, and thus gained complete possession of the strip of territory south of the Scheldt, known as the Land of Waes, which had been protected by these two strongholds, and which has since been called Dutch Flanders.

Very shortly after the capitulation of Hulst, the ambassadors plenipotentiary of the United Provinces set out (November, 1645) to take their places at the Congress of Münster on equal terms with the representatives of the Emperor and of the Kings of France and Spain. The position acquired by the Dutch republic among the powers of Europe was thus officially recognised de facto even before its independence had been de jure ratified by treaty. The parleyings at Münster made slow headway, as so many thorny questions had to be settled. Meanwhile, with the full approval of the prince, negotiations were being secretly carried on between Madrid and the Hague with the view of arriving at a separate understanding, in spite of the explicit terms of the treaty of 1635. As soon as the French became aware of what was going on, they naturally protested and did their utmost to raise every difficulty to prevent a treaty being concluded behind their backs. The old questions which had proved such serious obstacles in the negotiations of 1607-9 were still sufficiently formidable. But the situation was very different in 1646-7. The Spanish monarchy was actually in extremis. Portugal and Catalonia were in revolt; a French army had crossed the Pyrenees; the treasury was exhausted. Peace with the Dutch Republic was a necessity; and, as has been already said, the vexed question about the Indies had resolved itself rather into a Portuguese than a Spanish question. By a recognition of the Dutch conquests in Brazil and in the Indian Ocean they were acquiring an ally without losing anything that they had not lost already by the Portuguese declaration of independence. But, as the basis of an agreement was on the point of being reached, an event happened which caused a delay in the proceedings.

The Prince of Orange, who had been long a martyr to the gout, became in the autumn of 1646 hopelessly ill. He lingered on in continual suffering for some months and died on March 14, 1647. Shortly before his death he had the satisfaction of witnessing the marriage of his daughter Louise Henrietta to Frederick William of Brandenburg, afterwards known as the Great Elector. He was not, however, destined to see peace actually concluded, though he ardently desired to do so. Frederick Henry could, however, at any rate feel that his life-work had been thoroughly and successfully accomplished. The services he rendered to his country during his stadholderate of twenty-two years can scarcely be over-estimated. It is a period of extraordinary prosperity and distinction, which well deserves the title given to it by Dutch historians–"the golden age of Frederick Henry.” The body of the stadholder was laid, amidst universal lamentation and with almost regal pomp, besides those of his father and brother in the Nieuwe Kerk at Delft.

The removal of a personality of such authority and influence at this critical time was a dire misfortune, for there were many cross-currents of policy in the different provinces and of divergence of interests between the seafaring and merchant classes and other sections of the population. Finally the skill and perseverance of the two leading Dutch plenipotentiaries, Pauw and Van Knuyt, and of the Spanish envoys, Peñaranda and Brun, brought the negotiations to a successful issue. The assent of all the provinces was necessary, and for a time Utrecht and Zeeland were obstinately refractory, but at length their opposition was overcome; and on January 30,1648, the treaty of Münster was duly signed. Great rejoicings throughout the land celebrated the end of the War of Independence, which had lasted for eighty years. Thus, in spite of the solemn engagement made with France, a separate peace was concluded with Spain and in the interests of the United Provinces. Their course of action was beyond doubt politically wise and defensible, but, as might be expected, it left behind it a feeling of soreness, for the French naturally regarded it as a breach of faith. The treaty of Münster consisted of 79 articles, the most important of which were: the King of Spain recognised the United Provinces as free and independent lands; the States-General kept all their conquests in Brabant, Limburg and Flanders, the so-called Generality lands; also their conquests in Brazil and the East Indies made at the expense of Portugal; freedom of trading both in the East and West Indies was conceded; the Scheldt was declared closed, thus shutting out Antwerp from access to the sea; to the House of Orange all its confiscated property was restored; and lastly a treaty of trade and navigation with Spain was negotiated. On all points the Dutch obtained all and more than all they could have hoped for.


General Preface  •  Prologue  •  Chapter I: The Burgundian Netherlands  •  Chapter II: Habsburg Rule in the Netherlands  •  Chapter III  •  Chapter IV: The Revolt of the Netherlands  •  Chapter V: William the Silent  •  Chapter VI: The Beginnings of the Dutch Republic  •  Chapter VII: The System of Government  •  Chapter VIII: The Twelve Years’ Truce  •  Chapter IX: Maurice and Oldenbarneveldt  •  Chapter X: From the End of the Twelve Years’ Truce to the Peace of Muenster  •  Chapter XI  •  Chapter XII: Letters, Science and Art  •  Chapter XIII: The Stadholderate of William II.  •  Chapter XIV  •  Chapter XV  •  Chapter XVI  •  Chapter XVII  •  Chapter XVIII  •  Chapter XIX  •  Chapter XX: The War of the Spanish Succession and the Treaties of Utrecht, 1702-1715  •  Chapter XXI: The Stadholderless Republic, 1715-1740  •  Chapter XXII: The Austrian Succession War. William Iv, 1740-1751  •  Chapter XXIII: The Regency of Anne and of Brunswick.  •  Chapter XXIV  •  Chapter XXV: Stadholderate of William V, continued, 1780-1788  •  Chapter XXVI: The Orange Restoration. Downfall of the Republic, 1788-1795  •  Chapter XXVII: The Batavian Republic, 1795-1806  •  Chapter XXVIII: The Kingdom of Holland and the French Annexation, 1806-1814  •  Chapter XXIX: The Formation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 1814-1815  •  Chapter XXX: The Kingdom of the Netherlands–union of Holland and Belgium, 1815-1830  •  Chapter XXXI: The Belgian Revolution, 1830-1842  •  Chapter XXXII: William II. Revision of the Constitution.  •  Chapter XXXIII: Reign of William III to the Death of Thorbecke, 1849-1872  •  Chapter XXXIV: The Later Reign of William III, and the Regency Of Queen Emma, 1872-1898  •  Chapter XXXV: The Reign of Queen Wilhelmina, 1898-1917  •  Epilogue  •  Footnotes

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History of Holland, (Cambridge historical series)
By George Edmundson
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