History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter XXVIII: The Kingdom of Holland and the French Annexation, 1806-1814

Louis Bonaparte was but 28 years old, and of a kindly, gentle character very unlike his self-willed, domineering brother. He was weakly, and his ill-health made him at times restless and moody. He had given great satisfaction by his declaration that “as soon as he set foot on the soil of his kingdom he became a Hollander,” and he was well received. The constitution of the new kingdom differed little from that it superseded. The Secretaries of State became Ministers, and the number of members of the Legislative Body was raised to thirty-nine. The king had power to conclude treaties with foreign States without consulting the Legislative Body. The partition of the country was somewhat changed, Holland being divided into two departments, Amstelland and Maasland. Drente became a separate department; and in 1807 East Friesland with Jever was made into an eleventh department, as compensation for Flushing, which was annexed to France.

Louis came to the Hague with the best intentions of doing his utmost to promote the welfare of his kingdom, but from the first he was thwarted by the deplorable condition of the national finances. Out of a total income of fifty million florins the interest on the national debt absorbed thirty-five millions. The balance was not nearly sufficient to defray the costs of administration, much less to meet the heavy demands of Napoleon for contributions to war expenditure. All the efforts of the finance minister Gogel to reduce the charges and increase the income were of small avail. The king was naturally lavish, and he spent considerable sums in the maintenance of a brilliant court, and in adding to the number of royal residences. Dissatisfied with the Hague, he moved first to Utrecht, then to Amsterdam, where the Stadhuis was converted into a palace; and he bought the Pavilion at Haarlem as a summer abode. All this meant great expenditure. ’Louis was vain, and was only prevented from creating marshals of his army and orders of chivalry by Napoleon’s stern refusal to permit it. He had to be reminded that by the Bonaparte family-law he was but a vassal king, owning allegiance to the emperor.

Despite these weaknesses Louis did much for the land of his adoption. The old Rhine at Leyden, which lost itself in the dunes, was connected by a canal with Katwijk on the sea, where a harbour was created. The dykes and waterways were repaired and improved, and high-roads constructed from the Hague to Leyden, and from Utrecht to Het Loo. Dutch literature found in Louis a generous patron. He took pains to learn the language from the instruction of Bilderdijk, the foremost writer of his day. The foundation in 1808 of the “Royal Netherland Institute for Science, Letters and the Fine Arts” was a signal mark of his desire to raise the standard of culture in Holland on a national basis. The introduction of the Code Napoléon, with some necessary modifications, replaced a confused medley of local laws and customs, varying from province to province, by a general unified legal system. As a statesman and administrator Louis had no marked ability, but the ministers to whom he entrusted the conduct of affairs, Verhuell, minister of marine, Roëll, of foreign affairs, Kragenhoff, of war, Van Maanen, of justice, and more especially the experienced Gogel, in control of the embarrassed finances, were capable men.

The state of the finances indeed was the despair of the Dutch government. The imperious demands of Napoleon for the maintenance of an army of 40,000 men, to be employed by him on foreign campaigns, and also of a considerable navy, made all attempts at economy and re-organisation of the finances almost hopeless. By the war with England the Dutch had lost their colonies and most of their great sea-borne trade; and the situation was rendered more difficult by the Decree of Berlin in 1806 and the establishment of the “Continental System” by the emperor, as a reply to the British blockade. All trade and even correspondence with England were forbidden. He hoped thus to bring England to her knees; but, though the decree did not achieve this object, it did succeed in bringing utter ruin upon the Dutch commercial classes. In vain Louis protested; he was not heard and only met with angry rebukes from his brother for not taking more vigorous steps to stop smuggling, which the character of the Dutch coast rendered a comparatively easy and, at the same time, lucrative pursuit.

The overthrow of Austria and Prussia by Napoleon in 1805 and 1806, followed in 1807 by the Peace of Tilsit with Russia, made the emperor once more turn his attention to the project of an invasion of his hated enemy, England. A great French fleet was to be concentrated on the Scheldt, with Antwerp and Flushing for its bases. For this purpose large sums of money were expended in converting Antwerp into a formidable naval arsenal. But the British government were well aware of “the pistol that was being aimed at England’s breast"; and in 1809 a powerful expedition under the command of Lord Chatham was despatched, consisting of more than 100 warships and transports, with the object of destroying these growing dockyards and arsenals, and with them the threat of invasion. The attack was planned at a favourable moment, for the defensive force was very small, the bulk of the Dutch army having been sent to fight in the Austrian and Spanish campaigns, and the French garrisons greatly reduced. Chatham landed on the island of Walcheren, captured Middelburg and Veere and on August 15 compelled Flushing to surrender after such a furious bombardment that scarcely any houses remained standing. The islands of Schouwen, Duiveland and Zuid-Beveland were overrun; and, had the British general pushed on without delay, Antwerp might have fallen. But this he failed to do; and meanwhile Louis had collected, for the defence of the town, a force of 20,000 men, which, to his deep chagrin, Napoleon did not allow him to command. No attack however was made on Antwerp by the British, who had suffered severely from the fevers of Walcheren; and on the news of Wagram and the Treaty of Schönbrunn they slowly evacuated their conquests. Before the end of the year the whole force had returned to England.

This invasion, though successfully repelled, only accentuated the dissensions between the two brothers. French troops remained in occupation of Zeeland; and the French army of the north at Antwerp, now placed under the command of Marshal Oudinot, lay ready to enforce the demands of the emperor should the Dutch government prove recalcitrant. Those demands included the absolute suppression of smuggling, the strictest enforcement of the decrees against trading with England, conscription, and a repudiation of a portion of the State debt. Napoleon overwhelmed his brother with bitter gibes and angry threats, declaring that he wished to make Holland an English colony, and that the whole land, even his own palace, was full of smuggled goods. At last, though unwillingly, Louis consented to go in person to Paris and try to bring about an amicable settlement of the questions at issue. He arrived on December 26, intending to return at the New Year, meanwhile leaving the Council of Ministers in charge of the affairs of the kingdom. He soon found not only that his mission was in vain, but that he was regarded virtually as a prisoner. For three months he remained in Paris under police surveillance; and his interviews with his brother were of the most stormy description. The Dutch Council, alarmed by the constant threat of French invasion, at first thought of putting Amsterdam into a state of defence, but finally abandoned the idea as hopeless. The king did his utmost to appease Napoleon by the offer of concessions, but his efforts were scornfully rejected, and at last he was compelled (March 16, 1810) to sign a treaty embodying the terms dictated by the emperor. “I must,” he said, “at any price get out of this den of murderers.” By this treaty Brabant and Zeeland and the land between the Maas and the Waal, with Nijmwegen, were ceded to France. All commerce with England was forbidden. French custom-house officers were placed at the mouths of the rivers and at every port. Further, the Dutch were required to deliver up fifteen men-of-war and one hundred gunboats.

Louis was compelled to remain at Paris for the marriage of Napoleon with Marie Louise, but was then allowed to depart. Discouraged and humiliated, he found himself, with the title of king, practically reduced to the position of administrative governor of some French departments. Oudinot’s troops were in occupation of the Hague, Utrecht and Leyden; and, when the emperor and his bride paid a state visit to Antwerp, Louis had to do him homage. The relations between the two brothers had for some time been strained, Napoleon having taken the part of his step-daughter Hortense, who preferred the gaiety of Paris to the dull court of her husband, reproached the injured man for not treating better the best of wives. Matters were now to reach their climax. The coachman of the French ambassador, Rochefoucault, having met with maltreatment in the streets of Amsterdam, the emperor angrily ordered Rochefoucault to quit the Dutch capital (May 29), leaving only a chargé d’affaires, and at the same time dismissed Verhuell, the Dutch envoy, from Paris. This was practically a declaration of war. The Council of Ministers, on being consulted, determined that it was useless to attempt the defence of Amsterdam; and, when the king learned towards the end of June that Oudinot had orders to occupy the city, he resolved to forestall this final humiliation by abdication. On July 1, 1810, he signed the deed by which he laid down his crown in favour of his elder son, Napoleon Louis, under the guardianship of Queen Hortense. He then left the country, and retired into Bohemia.

To this disposition of the kingdom Napoleon, who had already made up his mind, paid not the slightest heed. On July 9 an Imperial Decree incorporated Holland in the French empire. “Holland,” said the emperor, “being formed by the deposits of three French rivers, the Rhine, the Meuse and the Scheldt, was by nature a part of France.” Not till January 1, 1811, was the complete incorporation to take place; meanwhile Le Brun, Duke of Piacenza, a man of 72 years of age, was sent to Amsterdam to be governor-general during the period of transition. It was a wise appointment, as Le Brun was a man of kindly disposition, ready to listen to grievances and with an earnest desire to carry out the transformation of the government in a conciliatory spirit. With him was associated, as Intendant of Home Affairs, Baron D’Alphonse, like himself of moderate views, and a Council of Ministers. A deputation of twenty-two persons from the Legislative Assembly was summoned to Paris for consultation with the Imperial Government. To Amsterdam was given the position of the third city in the empire, Paris being the first and Rome the second. The country was divided into nine departments–Bouches de l’Escaut, Bouches de la Meuse, Bouches du Rhin, Zuiderzee, Issel supérieur, Bouches de Issel, Frise, Ems Occidental and Ems Oriental. Over the departments, as in France, were placed préfets and under them sous-préfets and maires. All the préfets now appointed were native Dutchmen with the exception of two, De Celles at Amsterdam and De Standaart at the Hague; both were Belgians and both rendered themselves unpopular by their efforts to gain Napoleon’s favour by a stringent enforcement of his orders. The Dutch representation in the Legislative Assembly at Paris was fixed at twenty-five members; in the Senate at six members. When these took their seats, the Council of Affairs at Amsterdam was dissolved and at the same time the Code Napoléon unmodified became the law of the land.

Napoleon’s demands upon Holland had always been met with the reply that the land’s finances were unequal to the strain. The debt amounted to 40,000,000 fl.; and, despite heavy taxation, there was a large annual deficit in the budget. The emperor at once took action to remedy this state of things by a decree reducing the interest on the debt to one-third. This was a heavy blow to those persons whose limited incomes were mainly or entirely derived from investments in the State Funds–including many widows, and also hospitals, orphanages and other charitable institutions. At the same time this step should not be regarded as a mere arbitrary and dishonest repudiation of debt. The State was practically bankrupt. For some years only a portion of the interest or nothing at all had been paid; and the reduction in 1810 was intended to be but a temporary measure. The capital amount was left untouched, and the arrears of 1808 and 1809 were paid up at the new rate. That financial opinion was favourably impressed by this drastic action was shown by a considerable rise in the quotation of the Stock on the Bourse.

A far more unpopular measure was the introduction of military and naval conscription in 1811. There never had been any but voluntary service in Holland. Indeed during the whole period of the Republic, though the fleet was wholly manned by Dutch seamen, the army always included a large proportion of foreign mercenaries. By the law of 1811 all youths of twenty were liable to serve for five years either on land or sea; and the contingent required was filled by the drawing of lots. Deep and strong resentment was felt throughout the country, the more so that the law was made retrospective to all who had reached the age of twenty in the three preceding years. The battalions thus raised were treated as French troops, and were sent to take part in distant campaigns–in Spain and in Russia. Of the 15,000 men who marched with Napoleon into Russia in 1812 only a few hundreds returned.

The strict enforcement of the Continental System entailed great hardships upon the population. To such an extent was the embargo carried that all English manufactured goods found in Holland were condemned to be burnt; and the value of what was actually consumed amounted to millions of florins. A whole army of custom-house officers watched the coast, and every fishing smack that put to sea had one on board. At the same time not till 1812 was the customs barrier with France removed. In consequence of this prices rose enormously, industries were ruined, houses were given up and remained unoccupied, and thousands upon thousands were reduced to abject poverty. Such was the state of the treasury that in 1812 the reformed preachers received no stipends, and officials of all kinds had to be content with reduced salaries.

Nor were these the only causes of discontent. The police regulations and the censorship of the press were of the severest description, and the land swarmed with spies. No newspaper was permitted to publish any article upon matters of State or any political news except such as was sanctioned by the government, and with a French translation of the Dutch original. This applied even to advertisements. All books had to be submitted for the censor’s imprimatur. Every household was subject to the regular visitation of the police, who made the most minute inquisition into the character, the opinions, the occupations and means of subsistence of every member of the household.

Nevertheless the French domination, however oppressive, had good results in that for the first time in their history the Dutch provinces acquired a real unity. All the old particularism disappeared with the burgher-aristocracies, and the party feuds of Orangists and patriots. A true sense of nationality was developed. All classes of the population enjoyed the same political rights and equality before the law. Napoleon himself was not unpopular. In the autumn of 1811 he, accompanied by Marie Louise, made a state-progress through this latest addition to his empire. Almost every important place was visited, and in all parts of the country he was received with outward demonstrations of enthusiasm and almost servile obsequiency. It is perhaps not surprising, as the great emperor was now at the very topmost height of his dazzling fortunes.

But for Holland Napoleon’s triumphs had their dark side, for his chief and most determined enemy, England, was mistress of the seas; and the last and the richest of the Dutch colonies, Java, surrendered to the English almost on the very day that the Imperial progress began. Hearing of the activity of the British squadron in the Eastern seas, King Louis had, shortly after his acceptance of the crown, taken steps for the defence of Java by appointing Daendels, a man of proved vigour and initiative, governor-general. The difficulties of reaching Java in face of British vigilance were however well-nigh insurmountable, and it was not until a year after his nomination to the governorship that Daendels reached Batavia, on January 1, 1808. His measures for the defence of the island, including the construction of important highways, were most energetic, but so oppressive and high-handed as to arouse hostility and alienate the native chiefs. Napoleon, informed of Daendels’ harsh rule, sent out Janssens with a body of troops to replace him. The new governor-general landed on April 27, 1811, but he could make no effective resistance to a powerful British expedition under General Auchmuty, which took possession of Batavia on August 4, and after some severe fighting compelled (September 17) the whole of the Dutch forces to capitulate.

The year of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, 1812, was a year of passive endurance. The safety of the remnant of the Grand Army was secured (November 28) by the courage and staunchness of the Dutch pontoon-engineers, who, standing in the ice-cold water of the Beresina, completed the bridge over which, after a desperate battle, the French troops effected their escape. The Moscow catastrophe was followed in 1813 by a general uprising of the oppressed peoples of Europe against the Napoleonic tyranny. In this uprising the Dutch people, although hopes of freedom were beginning to dawn upon them, did not for some time venture to take any part. The Prince of Orange however had been in London since April, trying to secure a promise of assistance from the British government in case of a rising; and he was working in collaboration with a number of patriotic men in Holland, who saw in an Orange restoration the best hopes for their country’s independence. The news of Leipzig (October 14-16) roused them to action.

Foremost among these leaders was Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp. He had been one of the Orangist leaders at the time of the restoration of 1787 and had filled the post of pensionary of Rotterdam. After the French conquest he had withdrawn from public life. With him were associated Count Van Limburg-Stirum and Baron Van der Duyn van Maasdam, like himself residents at the Hague. Van Hogendorp could also count on a number of active helpers outside the Hague, prominent among whom were Falck, Captain of the National Guard at Amsterdam, and Kemper, a professor at Leyden. Plans were made for restoring the independence of the country under the rule of the Prince of Orange; but, in order to escape the vigilance of the French police, great care was taken to maintain secrecy, and nothing was committed to writing. The rapid march of allied troops, Russians and Prussians, towards the Dutch frontiers after Leipzig necessitated rapid action.

Van Hogendorp and his friends wished that Holland should free herself by her own exertions, for they were aware that reconquest by the allied forces might imperil their claims to independence. Their opportunity came when General Melliton, by order of the governor-general Le Brun, withdrew on November 14 from Amsterdam to Utrecht. One of the Orangist confederates, a sea-captain, named Job May, on the following day stirred up a popular rising in the city; and some custom-houses were burnt. Le Brun himself on this retreated to Utrecht and, on the 16th, after transferring the government of the country to Melliton, returned to France. Falck at the head of the National Guard had meanwhile re-established order at Amsterdam, and placed the town in charge of a provisional government. No sooner did this news reach the Hague than Van Hogendorp and Van Limburg-Stirum determined upon instant action (November 17). With a proclamation drawn up by Van Hogendorp, and at the head of a body of the National Guard wearing Orange colours, Van Limburg-Stirum marched through the streets to the Town Hall, where he read the proclamation declaring the Prince of Orange “eminent head of the State.” No opposition being offered, after discussion with their chief supporters, the triumvirate, Van Hogendorp, Van Limburg-Stirum and Van der Duyn van Maasdam, took upon themselves provisionally the government of the country, until the arrival of the Prince. Emissaries were at once sent to Amsterdam to announce what had taken place at the Hague. At first the Amsterdammers showed some hesitation; and it was not until the arrival of a body of Cossacks at their gates (November 24), that the city openly threw in its lot with the Orangist movement, which now rapidly spread throughout the country. Without delay the provisional government despatched two envoys, Fagel and De Perponcher, to London, to inform the Prince of Orange of what had occurred and to invite him to Holland.

William had been in England since April and had met with a favourable reception. In an interview with the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, support had been promised him (April 27, 1813) on the following conditions: (1) the frontiers of Holland should be extended “either by a sort of new Barrier, more effective than the old one, or by the union of some portions of territory adjacent to the ancient Republic; (2) Holland must wait until such time as Great Britain should deem convenient in her own interests for the restoration of the Dutch colonies, which she had conquered during the war; (3) a system of government must be set up which would reconcile the wishes of Holland with those of the Powers called to exercise so powerful an influence upon her future.” William had gone to London knowing that he could rely on the active assistance of his brother-in-law, Frederick William of Prussia, and of the Emperor Alexander I, and that the goodwill of England was assured by the projected marriage of his son (now serving under Wellington in Spain) with the Princess Charlotte, heiress-presumptive to the British throne. He now therefore without hesitation accepted the invitation, and landed at Scheveningen, November 30. He was received with unspeakable enthusiasm. At first there was some doubt as to what title William should bear and as to what should be the form of the new government. Van Hogendorp had drawn up a draft of a constitution on the old lines with an hereditary stadholder, a council-pensionary and a privileged aristocracy, but with large and necessary amendments, and the prince was himself inclined to a restoration of the stadholdership with enlarged powers. To the arguments of Kemper is the credit due of having persuaded him that a return to the old system, however amended, had now become impossible. The prince visited Amsterdam, December 2, and was there proclaimed by the title and quality of William I, Sovereign-Prince of the Netherlands. He refused the title of king, but the position he thus accepted with general approval was that of a constitutional monarch, and the promise was given that as soon as possible a Commission should be appointed to draw up a Fundamental Law (Grondwet) for the Dutch State.


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