History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter XIX


The accession of William III to the throne of England was an event fraught with important consequences to European politics and to the United Provinces. The king was enabled at last to realise the formation of that Grand Alliance for which he had so long been working. The treaty of Vienna, signed on May 12, 1689, encircled France with a ring of enemies, and saw the Emperor and Spain united with the Protestant powers, England, the States and many of the German princes in a bond of alliance for the maintenance of the treaties of Westphalia and the Pyrenees. It was not without some difficulty that William succeeded in inducing the States to enter into an offensive and defensive alliance with England. A special embassy consisting of Witsen, Odijk, Dijkveld and others was sent to London early in 1689 to endeavour to bring about some mutually advantageous arrangement of the various conflicting maritime and commercial interests of the two countries. But they could effect nothing. The English government refused either to repeal or modify the Navigation Act or to reduce the toll for fishing privileges; and it required all the personal influence of William to secure the signing of a treaty (September 3), which many leading Hollanders considered to be a subordinating of Dutch to English interests. And they were right; from this time began that decline of Dutch commercial supremacy which was to become more and more marked as the 18th century progressed. The policy of William III, as Frederick the Great remarked most justly, placed Holland in the position of a sloop towed behind the English ship-of-the-line.

The carrying trade of the world was still, however, in the reign of William III practically in the hands of the Dutch, despite the losses that had been sustained during the English wars and the French invasion. The only competitor was England under the shelter of the Navigation Act. The English had, under favourable conditions, their staple at Dordrecht, the Scots their staple at Veere; and the volume of trade under the new conditions of close alliance was very considerable. But the imports largely exceeded the exports; and both exports and imports had to be carried in English bottoms. The Baltic (or Eastern) trade remained a Dutch monopoly, as did the trade with Russia through Archangel. Almost all the ships that passed through the Sound were Dutch; and they frequented all the Baltic ports, whether Russian, Scandinavian or German, bringing the commodities of the South and returning laden with hemp, tallow, wood, copper, iron, corn, wax, hides and other raw products for distribution in other lands. The English had a small number of vessels in the Mediterranean and the Levant, and frequented the Spanish and Portuguese harbours, but as yet they hardly interfered with the Dutch carrying-trade in those waters. The whole trade of Spain with her vast American dominions was by law restricted to the one port of Cadiz; but no sooner did the galleons bringing the rich products of Mexico and Peru reach Cadiz than the bulk of their merchandise was quickly transhipped into Dutch vessels, which here, as elsewhere, were the medium through which the exchange of commodities between one country and another was effected. It was a profitable business, and the merchants of Amsterdam and of the other Dutch commercial centres grew rich and prospered.

The position of the Dutch in the East Indies at the close of the 17th century is one of the marvels of history. The East India Company, with its flourishing capital at Batavia, outdistanced all competitors. It was supreme in the Indian archipelago and along all the shores washed by the Indian Ocean. The governor-general was invested with great powers and, owing to his distance from the home authority, was able to make unfettered use of them during his term of office. He made treaties and conducted wars and was looked upon by the princes and petty rulers of the Orient as a mighty potentate. The conquest of Macassar in 1669, the occupation of Japara and Cheribon in 1680, of Bantam in 1682, of Pondicherry in 1693, together with the possession of Malacca and of the entire coast of Ceylon, of the Moluccas, and of the Cape of Good Hope, gave to the Dutch the control of all the chief avenues of trade throughout those regions. By treaties of alliance and commerce with the Great Mogul and other smaller sovereigns and chieftains factories were established at Hooghly on the Ganges, at Coelim, Surat, Bender Abbas, Palembang and many other places. In the Moluccas they had the entire spice trade in their hands. Thus a very large part of the products of the Orient found its way to Europe by way of Amsterdam, which had become increasingly the commercial emporium and centre of exchange for the world.

The West India Company, on the other hand, had been ruined by the loss of its Brazilian dominion followed by the English wars. Its charter came to an end in 1674, but it was replaced by a new Company on a more moderate scale. Its colonies on the Guiana coast, Surinam, Berbice and Essequibo were at the end of the 17th century in an impoverished condition, but already beginning to develop the sugar plantations which were shortly to become a lucrative industry; and the island of Curaçoa had the unenviable distinction of being for some years one of the chief centres of the negro slave trade.

In the United Provinces themselves one of the features of this period was the growth of many new industries and manufactures, largely due to the influx of Huguenot refugees, many of whom were skilled artisans. Not only did the manufacturers of cloth and silk employ a large number of hands, but also those of hats, gloves, ribbons, trimmings, laces, clocks and other articles, which had hitherto been chiefly produced in France. One of the consequences of the rapid increase of wealth was a change in the simple habits, manners and dress, which hitherto travellers had noted as one of the most remarkable characteristics of the Hollanders. Greater luxury began to be displayed, French fashions and ways of life to be imitated, and the French language to be used as the medium of intercourse among the well-to-do classes. Another sign of the times was the spread of the spirit of speculation and of gambling in stocks and shares, showing that men were no longer content to amass wealth by the slow process of ordinary trade and commerce. This state of prosperity, which was largely due to the security which the close alliance with England brought to the Republic, explains in no small measure the acquiescence of the Dutch in a state of things which made the smaller country almost a dependency of the larger. They were proud that their stadholder should reign as king in Britain; and his prolonged absences did not diminish their strong attachment to him or lessen his authority among them. So much greater indeed was the power exercised by William in the Republic than that which, as a strictly constitutional sovereign, he possessed in the kingdom, that it was wittily said that the Prince of Orange was stadholder in England and king in Holland.

It must not be supposed, however, that William in his capacity as stadholder was free from worries and trials. He had many; and, as usual, Amsterdam was the chief centre of unrest. After the expedition set sail for Torbay, William was continuously absent for no less than two and a half years. It is no wonder therefore that during so long a period, when the attention of the king was absorbed by other pressing matters, difficulties should have arisen in his administration of the affairs of the Republic. It was very unfortunate that his most able and trusted friend and adviser, the Council-Pensionary Fagel, should have died, in December, 1688, just when William’s enterprise in England had reached its most critical stage. Fagel was succeeded, after a brief interval, in his most important and influential office by Antony Heinsius. Heinsius, who had been for some years Pensionary of Delft, was a modest, quiet man, already forty-five years of age, capable, experienced and business-like. His tact and statesmanlike qualities were of the greatest service to William and scarcely less to his country, at a time when urgent duties in England made it so difficult for the stadholder to give personal attention to the internal affairs of the Republic. No other Prince of Orange had ever so favourable an opportunity as William III for effecting such changes in the system of government and administration in the Dutch Republic as would simplify and co-ordinate its many rival and conflicting authorities, and weld its seven sovereign provinces into a coherent State with himself (under whatever title) as its “eminent head.” At the height of his power his will could have over-ridden local or partisan opposition, for he had behind him the prestige of his name and deeds and the overwhelming support of popular opinion. But William had little or no interest in these constitutional questions. Being childless, he had no dynastic ambitions. The nearest male representative of his house was Henry Casimir, the stadholder of Friesland, with whom his relations had been far from friendly. In his mind, everything else was subordinate to the one and overruling purpose of his life, the overthrow of the power of Louis XIV and of French ascendancy in Europe.

The great coalition which had been formed in 1689 by the treaty of Vienna was, in the first years of the war which then broke out, attended with but mediocre success. The French armies laid waste the Palatinate with great barbarity, and then turned their attentions to the southern Netherlands. The attempted invasion was, however, checked by an allied force (August 25) in a sharp encounter near Charleroi. The next year, 1690, was particularly unfortunate for the allies. William was still absent, having been obliged to conduct an expedition to Ireland. He had placed the aged Marshal Waldeck in command of the Coalition forces. Waldeck had the redoubtable Luxemburg opposed to him and on July 1 the two armies met at Fleurus, when, after a hard-fought contest, the allies suffered a bloody defeat. An even greater set-back was the victory gained by Admiral Tourville over the combined Anglo-Dutch fleet off Beachy Head (July 10). The Dutch squadron under Cornelis Evertsen bore the brunt of the fight and suffered heavily. They received little help from the English contingent; and the English Admiral Torrington was accused of having wilfully sacrificed his allies. The effect was serious, for the French enjoyed for a while the rare satisfaction of holding the command of the Channel. The complete triumph of King William at the battle of the Boyne (July 12) relieved somewhat the consternation felt at this naval disaster, and set him free to devote his whole attention to the Continental war. His return to the Hague early in 1691 caused general rejoicing, and he was there able to concert with his allies the placing of a large force in the field for the ensuing campaign. The operations were, however, barren of any satisfactory results. Luxemburg advanced before the allies were ready, and burnt and plundered a large tract of country. William, acting on the defensive, contented himself with covering the capital and the rest of Flanders and Brabant from attack; and no pitched battle took place.

Great preparations were made by Louis XIV in the spring of 1692 for the invasion of England. Troops were collected on the coast, and the squadron under D’Estrées at Toulon was ordered to join the main fleet of Tourville at Brest. Contrary winds delayed the junction; and Tourville rashly sailed out and engaged off La Hogue a greatly superior allied fleet on May 29. The conflict this time chiefly fell upon the English, and after a fierce fight the French were defeated and fled for refuge into the shoal waters. Here they were followed by the lighter vessels and fire-ships of the allies; and the greater part of the French fleet was either burnt or driven upon the rocks (June 1). The maritime power of France was for the time being destroyed, and all fears of invasion dissipated. On land ill-success continued to dog the footsteps of the allies. The strong fortress of Namur was taken by the French; and, after a hotly contested battle at Steinkirk, William was compelled by his old adversary Luxemburg to retreat. William, though he was rarely victorious on the field of battle, had great qualities as a leader. His courage and coolness won the confidence of his troops, and he was never greater than in the conduct of a retreat. This was shown conspicuously in the following year (1693), when, after a disastrous defeat at Neerwinden (July 29), again at the hands of Luxemburg, he succeeded at imminent personal risk in withdrawing his army in good order in face of the superior forces of the victorious enemy.

In 1694 the allies confined themselves to defensive operations. Both sides were growing weary of war; and there were strong parties in favour of negotiating for peace both in the Netherlands and in England. Some of the burgher-regents of Amsterdam, Dordrecht and other towns even went so far as to make secret overtures to the French government, and they had the support of the Frisian Stadholder; but William was resolutely opposed to accepting such conditions as France was willing to offer, and his strong will prevailed.

The position of the king in England was made more difficult by the lamented death of Queen Mary on January 2,1695. William had become deeply attached to his wife during these last years, and for a time he was prostrated by grief. But a strong sense of public duty roused him from his depression; and the campaign of 1695 was signalised by the most brilliant military exploit of his life, the recapture of Namur. That town, strong by its natural position, had been fortified by Vauban with all the resources of engineering skill, and was defended by a powerful garrison commanded by Marshal Boufflers. But William had with him the famous Coehoorn, in scientific siege-warfare the equal of Vauban himself. At the end of a month the town of Namur was taken, but Boufflers withdrew to the citadel. Villeroy, at the head of an army of 90,000 men, did his utmost to compel the king to raise the siege by threatening Brussels; but a strong allied force watched his movements and successfully barred his approach to Namur. At last, on September 5, Boufflers capitulated after a gallant defence on the condition that he and his troops should march out with all the honours of war.

The campaign of 1696 was marked by no event of importance; indeed both sides were thoroughly tired out by the protracted and inconclusive contest. Moreover the failing health of Charles II of Spain threatened to open out at any moment the vital question of the succession to the Spanish throne. Louis XIV, William III and the emperor were all keenly alive to the importance of the issue, and wished to have their hands free in order to prepare for a settlement, either by diplomatic means or by a fresh appeal to arms. But peace was the immediate need, and overtures were privately made by the French king to each of the allied powers in 1696. At last it was agreed that plenipotentiaries from all the belligerents should meet in congress at Ryswyck near the Hague with the Swedish Count Lilienrot as mediator. The congress was opened on May 9, 1697, but many weeks elapsed before the representatives of the various powers settled down to business. Heinsius and Dijkveld were the two chief Dutch negotiators. The emperor, when the other powers had come to terms, refused to accede; and finally England, Spain and the United Provinces determined to conclude a separate peace. It was signed on September 20 and was based upon the treaties of Nijmwegen and Münster. France, having ulterior motives, had been conciliatory. Strasburg was retained, but most of the French conquests were given up. William was recognised as King of England, and the Principality of Orange was restored to him. With the Dutch a commercial treaty was concluded for twenty-five years on favourable terms.

It was well understood, however, by all the parties that the peace of Ryswyck was a truce during which the struggle concerning the Spanish Succession would be transferred from the field of battle to the field of diplomacy, in the hope that some solution might be found. The question was clearly of supreme importance to the States, for it involved the destiny of the Spanish Netherlands. England, too, had great interests at stake, and was determined to prevent the annexation of the Belgic provinces by France. With Charles II the male line of the Spanish Habsburgs became extinct; and there were three principal claimants in the female line of succession. The claim of the Dauphin was much the strongest, for he was the grandson of Anne of Austria, Philip III’s eldest daughter, and the son of Maria Theresa of Austria, Charles II’s eldest sister. But both these queens of France had on their marriage solemnly renounced their rights of succession. Louis XIV, however, asserted that his wife’s renunciation was invalid, since the dowry, the payment of which was guaranteed by the marriage contract, had never been received. The younger sister of Maria Theresa had been married to the emperor; and two sons and a daughter had been the fruit of the union. This daughter in her turn had wedded the Elector of Bavaria, and had issue one boy of ten years. The Elector himself, Maximilian Emmanuel, had been for five years Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, where his rule had been exceedingly popular. William knew that one of the chief objects of the French king in concluding peace was to break up the Grand Alliance and so prepare the way for a masterful assertion of his rights as soon as the Spanish throne was vacant; and with patient diplomatic skill he set to work at once to arrange for such a partition of the Spanish monarchy among the claimants as should prevent the Belgic provinces from falling into the hands of a first-class power and preserve Spain itself with its overseas possessions from the rule of a Bourbon prince. He had no difficulty in persuading the States to increase their fleet and army in case diplomacy should fail, for the Dutch were only too well aware of the seriousness of the French menace to their independence. In England, where jealousy of a standing army had always been strong, he was less successful, and Parliament insisted on the disbanding of many thousands of seasoned troops. The object at which William aimed was a partition treaty; and a partition was actually arranged (October 11, 1698). This arrangement, according to the ideas of the time, paid no respect whatever to the wishes of the peoples, who were treated as mere pawns by these unscrupulous diplomatists. The Spanish people, as might be expected, were vehemently opposed to any partition of the empire of Charles V and Philip II; and, in consequence of the influences that were brought to bear upon him, Charles II left by will the young electoral prince, Joseph Ferdinand, heir to his whole inheritance. By the secret terms of the partition treaty the crown of Spain together with the Netherlands and the American colonies had been assigned to the Bavarian claimant, but the Spanish dominions in Italy were divided between the two other claimants, the second son of the Dauphin, Philip, Duke of Anjou, receiving Naples and Sicily; the second son of the emperor, the Archduke Charles, the Milanese. Unfortunately, Joseph Ferdinand fell sick of the small-pox and died (March, 1699). With William and Heinsius the main point now was to prevent the French prince from occupying the Spanish throne; and in all secrecy negotiations were again opened at the Hague for a second partition treaty. They found Louis XIV still willing to conclude a bargain. To the Duke of Anjou was now assigned, in addition to Naples and Sicily, the duchy of Lorraine (whose duke was to receive the Milanese in exchange); the rest of the Spanish possessions were to fall to the Archduke Charles (March, 1700). The terms of this arrangement between the French king and the maritime powers did not long remain a secret; and when they were known they displeased the emperor, who did not wish to see French influence predominant in Italy and his own excluded, and still more the Spanish people, who objected to any partition and to the Austrian ruler. The palace of Charles II became a very hot-bed of intrigues, and finally the dying king was persuaded to make a fresh will and nominate Anjou as his universal heir. Accordingly on Charles’ death (November 1, 1700) Philip V was proclaimed king.

For a brief time Louis was doubtful as to what course of action would be most advantageous to French interests, but not for long. On November 11 he publicly announced to his court at Versailles that his grandson had accepted the Spanish crown. This step was followed by the placing of French garrisons in some of the frontier fortresses of the Belgic Netherlands by consent of the governor, the Elector of Bavaria. The following months were spent in the vain efforts of diplomacy to obtain such guarantees from the French king as would give security to the States and satisfaction to England and the emperor, and so avoid the outbreak of war. In the States Heinsius, who was working heart and soul with the stadholder in this crisis, had no difficulty in obtaining the full support of all parties, even in Holland, to the necessity of making every effort to be ready for hostilities. William had a more difficult task in England, but he had the support of the Whig majority in Parliament and of the commercial classes; and he laboured hard, despite constant and increasing ill-health, to bring once more into existence the Grand Alliance of 1689. In July negotiations were opened between the maritime powers and the emperor at the Hague, which after lengthy discussions were brought to a conclusion in September, in no small degree through the tact and persuasiveness of Lord Marlborough, the English envoy, who had now begun that career which was shortly to make his name so famous. The chief provisions of the treaty of alliance, signed on September 7, 1701, were that Austria was to have the Italian possessions of Spain; the Belgic provinces were to remain as a barrier and protection for Holland against French aggression; and England and the States were to retain any conquests they might make in the Spanish West Indies. Nothing was said about the crown of Spain, a silence which implied a kind of recognition of Philip V. To this league were joined Prussia, Hanover, Lüneburg, Hesse-Cassel, while France, to whom Spain was now allied, could count upon the help of Bavaria. War was not yet declared, but at this very moment Louis XIV took a step which was wantonly provocative. James II died at St Germain on September 6; and his son was at once acknowledged by Louis as King of England, by the title of James III. This action aroused a storm of indignation among the English people, and William found himself supported by public opinion in raising troops and obtaining supplies for war. The preparations were on a vast scale. The emperor undertook to place 90,000 men in the field; England, 40,000; the German states, 54,000; and the Republic no less than 100,000. William had succeeded at last in the object of his life; a mighty confederation had been called into being to maintain the balance of power in Europe, and overthrow the threatened French domination. This confederation in arms, of which he was the soul and the acknowledged head, was destined to accomplish the object for which it was formed, but not under his leadership. The king had spent the autumn in Holland in close consultation with Heinsius, visiting the camps, the arsenals and the dockyards, and giving instructions to the admirals and generals to have everything in readiness for the campaign of the following spring. Then in November he went to England to hurry on the preparations, which were in a more backward condition than in the States. But he had overtaxed his strength. Always frail and ailing, William had for years by sheer force of will-power conquered his bodily weakness and endured the fatigue of campaigns in which he was content to share all hardships with his soldiers. In his double capacity, too, of king and stadholder, the cares of government and the conduct of foreign affairs had left him no rest. Especially had this been the case in England during the years which had followed Queen Mary’s death, when he found himself opposed and thwarted and humiliated by party intrigues and cabals, to such an extent that he more than once thought of abdicating. He was feeling very ill and tired when he returned, and he grew weaker, for the winter in England always tried him. His medical advisers warned him that his case was one for which medicine was of no avail, and that he was not fit to bear the strain of the work he was doing. But the indomitable spirit of the man would not give way, and he still hoped with the spring to be able to put himself at the head of his army. It was not to be; an accident was the immediate cause by which the end came quickly. He was riding in Bushey Park when his horse stumbled over a mole-hill and the king was thrown, breaking his collar-bone (March 14,1702). The shock proved fatal in his enfeebled state; and, after lingering for four days, during which, in full possession of his mental faculties, he continued to discuss affairs of state, he calmly took leave of his special friends, Bentinck, Earl of Portland and Keppel, Earl of Albemarle, and of the English statesmen who stood round his death-bed, and, after thanking them for their services, passed away. For four generations the House of Orange had produced great leaders of men, but it may be said without disparagement to his famous predecessors that the last heir-male of that House was the greatest of them all. He saved the Dutch Republic from destruction; and during the thirty years of what has well been called his reign he gave to it a weighty place in the Councils of Europe and raised it to a height of great material prosperity. But even such services as these were dwarfed by the part that he played in laying the foundation of constitutional monarchy in England, and of the balance of power in Europe. It is difficult to say whether Holland, England or Europe owed the deepest debt to the life-work of William III.


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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