History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter XXVI: The Orange Restoration. Downfall of the Republic, 1788-1795

One of the first steps taken, after the restoration of the stadholder’s power had been firmly established, was the appointment of Laurens Pieter van de Spiegel to the post of council-pensionary of Holland in place of the trimmer Bleiswijk. It was quite contrary to usage that a Zeelander should hold this the most important post in the Estates of Holland, but the influence of the princess and of Harris secured his unanimous election on December 3, 1787. Van de Spiegel proved himself to be a statesman of high capacity, sound judgment and great moderation, not unworthy to be ranked among the more illustrious occupants of his great office. He saw plainly the hopeless deadlock and confusion of the machinery of government and its need of root-and-branch revision, but he was no more able to achieve it than his predecessors. The feebleness of the stadholder, the high-handedness of the princess, and the selfish clinging of the patrician-regents to their privileged monopoly of civic power were insuperable hindrances to any attempts to interfere with the existing state of things. Such was the inherent weakness of the Republic that it was an independent State in little more than name; its form of government was guaranteed by foreign powers on whom it had to rely for its defence against external foes.

Prussia by armed force, England by diplomatic support, had succeeded in restoring the hereditary stadholderate to a predominant position in the State. It was the first care of the triumvirate, Harris, Van de Spiegel and the princess, to secure what had been achieved by bringing about a defensive alliance between the Republic, Great Britain and Prussia. After what had taken place this was not a difficult task; and two separate treaties were signed between the States-General and the two protecting powers on the same day, April 15, 1788, each of the three states undertaking to furnish a definite quota of troops, ships or money, if called upon to do so. Both Prussia and England gave a strong guarantee for the upholding of the hereditary stadholderate. This was followed by the conclusion of an Anglo-Prussian alliance directed against France and Austria (August 13). The marriage of the hereditary prince with Frederika Louise Wilhelmina of Prussia added yet another to the many royal alliances of the House of Orange; but, though it raised the prestige of the stadholder’s position, it only served to make that position more dependent on the support of the foreigner.

The council-pensionary, Van de Spiegel, did all that statesman could do in these difficult times to effect reforms and bring order out of chaos. It was fortunate for the Republic that the stadholder should have discerned the merits of this eminent servant of the state and entrusted to him so largely the direction of affairs. Internally the spirit of faction had, superficially at least, been crushed by Prussian military intervention, but externally there was serious cause for alarm. Van de Spiegel watched with growing disquietude the threatening aspect of things in France, preluding the great Revolution; and still more serious was the insurrection, which the reforming zeal of Joseph II had caused to break out in the Austrian Netherlands. Joseph’s personal visit to his Belgian dominions had filled him with a burning desire to sweep away the various provincial privileges and customs and to replace them by administrative uniformity. Not less was his eagerness to free education from clerical influence. He stirred up thereby the fierce opposition of clericals and democrats alike, ending in armed revolt in Brabant and elsewhere. A desultory struggle went on during the years 1787, ’88 and ’89, ending in January, 1790, in a meeting of the States-General at Brussels and the formation of a federal republic under the name of “the United States of Belgium.” All this was very perturbing to the Dutch government, who were most anxious lest an Austrian attempt at reconquest might lead to a European conflict close to their borders. The death of Joseph on February 24, 1790, caused the danger to disappear. His brother, Leopold II, at once offered to re-establish ancient privileges, and succeeded by tact and moderation in restoring Austrian rule under the old conditions. That this result was brought about without any intervention of foreign powers was in no small measure due to a conference at the Hague, in which Van de Spiegel conducted negotiations with the representatives of Prussia, England and Austria for a settlement of the Belgian question without disturbance of the peace.

The council-pensionary found the finances of the country in a state of great confusion. One of his first cares was a re-assessment of the provincial quotas, some of which were greatly in arrears and inadequate in amount, thus throwing a disproportionate burden upon Holland. It was a difficult task, but successfully carried out. The affairs of the East and West India Companies next demanded his serious attention. Both of them were practically bankrupt.

The East India Company had, during the 18th century, been gradually on the decline. Its object was to extract wealth from Java and its other eastern possessions; and, by holding the monopoly of trade and compelling the natives to hand over to the Company’s officials a proportion of the produce of the land at a price fixed by the Company far below its real value (contingent-en leverantie-stelsel), the country was drained of its resources and the inhabitants impoverished simply to increase the shareholder’s dividends. This was bad enough, but it was made worse by the type of men whom the directors, all of whom belonged to the patrician regent-families, sent out to fill the posts of governor-general and the subordinate governorships. For many decades these officials had been chosen, not for their proved experience or for their knowledge of the East or of the Indian trade, but because of family connection; and the nominees went forth with the intention of enriching themselves as quickly as possible. This led to all sorts of abuses, and the profits of the Company from all these causes kept diminishing. But, in order to keep up their credit, the Board of XVII continued to pay large dividends out of capital, with the inevitable result that the Company got into debt and had to apply for help to the State. The English war completed its ruin. In June, 1783, the Estates of Holland appointed a Commission to examine into the affairs of the Company. Too many people in Holland had invested their money in it, and the Indian trade was too important, for an actual collapse of the Company to be permitted. Accordingly an advance of 8,000,000 florins was made to the directors, with a guarantee for 38,000,000 of debt. But things went from bad to worse. In 1790 the indebtedness of the Company amounted to 85,000,000 florins. Van de Spiegel and others were convinced that the only satisfactory solution would be for the State to dissolve the Company and take over the Indian possessions in full sovereignty at the cost of liquidating the debt, A commission was appointed in 1791 to proceed to the East and make a report upon the condition of the colonies. Before their mission was accomplished the French armies were overrunning the Republic. It was not till 1798 that the existence of the Company actually came to an end. To the West India Company the effect of the English war was likewise disastrous. The Guiana colonies, whose sugar plantations had been a source of great profit, had been conquered first by the English, then by the French; and, though they were restored after the war, the damage inflicted had brought the Company into heavy difficulties. Its charter expired in 1791, and it was not renewed. The colonies became colonies of the State, the shareholders being compensated by exchanging their depreciated shares for Government bonds.

The Orange restoration, however, and the efforts of Van de Spiegel to strengthen its bases by salutary reforms were doomed to be short-lived. The council-pensionary, in spite of his desire to relinquish office at the end of his quinquennial term, was reelected by the Estates of Holland on December 6, 1792, and yielded to the pressure put upon him to continue his task. A form of government, which had been imposed against their will on the patriot party by the aid of foreign bayonets, was certain to have many enemies; and such prospect of permanence as it had lay in the goodwill and confidence inspired by the statesmanlike and conciliatory policy of Van de Spiegel. But it was soon to be swept away in the cataclysm of the French Revolution now at the height of its devastating course.

In France extreme revolutionary ideas had made rapid headway, ending in the dethronement and imprisonment of the king on August 10, 1792. The invasion of France by the Prussian and Austrian armies only served to inflame the French people, intoxicated by their new-found liberty, to a frenzy of patriotism. Hastily raised armies succeeded in checking the invasion at Valmy on September 20, 1792; and in their turn invading Belgium under the leadership of Dumouriez, they completely defeated the Austrians at Jemappes on November 6. The whole of Belgium was overrun and by a decree of the French Convention was annexed. The fiery enthusiasts, into whose hands the government of the French Republic had fallen, were eager to carry by force of arms the principles of liberty, fraternity and equality to all Europe, declaring that “all governments are our enemies, all peoples are our friends.” The southern Netherlands having been conquered, it was evident that the northern Republic would speedily invite attack. The Dutch government, anxious to avoid giving any cause for hostilities, had carefully abstained from offering any encouragement to the emigrants or support to the enemies of the French Republic. Van de Spiegel had even expressed to De Maulde, the French ambassador, a desire to establish friendly relations with the Republican government. But the Jacobins looked upon the United Provinces as the dependent of their enemies England and Prussia; and, when after the execution of the king the English ambassador was recalled from Paris, the National Convention immediately declared war against England and at the same time against the stadholder of Holland “because of his slavish bondage to the courts of St James and Berlin.”

Dumouriez at the head of the French army prepared to enter the United Provinces at two points. The main body under his own command was to cross the Moerdijk to Dordrecht and then advance on Rotterdam, the Hague, Leyden and Haarlem. He was accompanied by the so-called Batavian legion, enlisted from the patriot exiles under Colonel Daendels, once the fiery anti-Orange advocate of Hattem. General Miranda, who was besieging Maestricht, was to march by Nijmwegen and Venloo to Utrecht. The two forces would then unite and make themselves masters of Amsterdam. The ambitious scheme miscarried. At first success attended Dumouriez. Breda fell after a feeble resistance, also De Klundert and Geertruidenberg. Meanwhile the advance of an Austrian army under Coburg relieved Maestricht and inflicted a defeat upon the French at Aldenhoven on March 1, 1793. Dumouriez, compelled to retreat, was himself beaten at Neerwinden on March 18, and withdrew to Antwerp. For the moment danger was averted. Revolutionary movements at Amsterdam and elsewhere failed to realise the hopes of the patriots, and the Dutch government was able to breathe again.

It indeed appeared that the French menace need no longer be feared. Dumouriez changed sides and, failing to induce his troops to follow him, took refuge in the enemy’s camp. A powerful coalition had now been formed by the energy of Pitt against revolutionary France; and, in April, 1794, a strong English army under the Duke of York had joined Coburg. They were supported by 22,000 Dutch troops commanded by the two sons of the Prince of Orange.

New French armies, however, organised by the genius of Carnot, proved more than a match for the allied forces acting without any unity of place under slow-moving and incompetent leaders. Coburg and the Austrians were heavily defeated at Fleurus by Jourdan on June 26. York and Prince William thereupon retreated across the frontier, followed by the French under Pichegru, while another French general, Moreau, took Sluis and overran Dutch Flanders. This gave fresh encouragement to the patriot party, who in Amsterdam formed a revolutionary committee, of which the leaders were Gogel, Van Dam and Kraijenhoff. Nothing overt was done, but by means of a large number of so-called reading-societies (leesgezelschappen) secret preparations were made for a general uprising so soon as circumstances permitted, and communications were meanwhile kept up with the exiled patriots. But Pichegru, though he captured Maestricht and other towns, was very cautious in his movements and distrustful of the promises of the Amsterdam Convention that a general revolt would follow upon his entry into Holland.

In this way the year 1794 drew to its end; and, as no further help from England or Prussia could be obtained, the States-General thought it might be possible to save the Republic from the fate of Belgium by opening negotiations for peace with the enemy. Accordingly two envoys, Brantsen and Repelaer, were sent on December 16 to the French headquarters, whence they proceeded to Paris. Fearing lest their plans for an uprising should be foiled, the Amsterdam committee also despatched two representatives, Blauw and Van Dam, to Paris to counteract the envoys of Van de Spiegel, and to urge upon the French commanders an immediate offensive against Holland. The withdrawal of the remains of the English army under the Duke of York, and the setting in of a strong frost, lent force to their representations. The army of Pichegru, accompanied by Daendels and his Batavian legion, were able to cross the rivers; and Holland lay open before them. It was in vain that the two young Orange princes did their utmost to organise resistance. In January, 1795 one town after another surrendered; and on the 19th Daendels without opposition entered Amsterdam.

The revolution was completely triumphant, for on this very day the stadholder, despite the protests of his sons and the efforts of the council-pensionary, had left the country. The English government had offered to receive William V and his family; and arrangements had been quietly made for the passage across the North Sea. The princess with her daughter-in-law and grandson were the first to leave; and on January 17, 1795, William himself, on the ground that the French would never negotiate so long as he was in the country, bade farewell to the States-General and the foreign ambassadors. On the following day he embarked with his sons and household on a number of fishing-pinks at Scheveningen and put to sea. With his departure the stadholderate and the Republic of the United Netherlands came to an end.


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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