History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter XXIX: The Formation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 1814-1815

When the Prince of Orange assumed the title of William I, Sovereign-Prince of the Netherlands, at Amsterdam, on December 2, 1813, the principal towns were still occupied by French garrisons; but with the help of the allied forces, Russians and Prussians, these were, in the opening months of 1814, one by one conquered. The Helder garrison, under the command of Admiral Verhuell, did not surrender till May. By the end of that month the whole land was freed.

The first step taken by the Sovereign-Prince (December 21) was to appoint a Commission to draw up a Fundamental Law according to his promise. The Commission consisted of fifteen members, with Van Hogendorp as president. Their labours were concluded early in March. The concept was on March 29 submitted to an Assembly of six hundred notables, summoned for the purpose, the voting to be ’for’ or ’against’ without discussion. The gathering took place in the Nieuwe Kerk at Amsterdam, Of the 474 who were present, 448 voted in favour of the new Constitution. On the following day the Prince of Orange took the oath in the Nieuwe Kerk and was solemnly inaugurated as Sovereign-Prince of the Netherlands.

The principal provisions of the Fundamental Law of March, 1814, were as follows:

The Sovereign shares the Legislative Power with the States-General, but alone exercises the Executive Power. All the sovereign prerogatives formerly possessed by provinces, districts or towns are now transferred to the Sovereign. He is assisted by a Council of State of twelve members, appoints and dismisses ministers, declares war and makes peace, has the control of finance and governs the overseas-possessions. The States-General consist of fifty-five members, elected by the nine provinces, Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Overyssel, Gelderland, Groningen, Friesland, Brabant and Drente on the basis of population. The members are elected for three years, but one-third vacate their seats every year. They have the right of legislative initiative, and of veto. The finances are divided into ordinary and extraordinary expenditure, over the former the States-General exercise no control, but a general Chamber of Accounts (Algemeene Rekenkamer) has the supervision over ways and means. The Sovereign must be a member of the Reformed Church, but equal protection is given by the State to all religious beliefs.

It was essentially an aristocratic constitution. At least one quarter of the States-General must belong to the nobility. The Provincial Estates had the control of local affairs only, but had the privilege of electing the members of the States-General. They were themselves far from being representative. For the country districts the members were chosen from the nobility and the land-owners; in the towns by colleges of electors (kiezers), consisting of those who paid the highest contributions in taxes. Except for the strengthening of the central executive power and the abolition of all provincial sovereign rights, the new Constitution differed little from the old in its oligarchic character.

It was, however, to be but a temporary arrangement. It has already been pointed out that, months before his actual return to Holland, the prince had received assurances from the British government that a strong Netherland State should be created, capable of being a barrier to French aggression. The time had now arrived for the practical carrying-out of this assurance. Accordingly Lord Castlereagh in January, 1814, when on his way, as British plenipotentiary, to confer with the Allied Sovereigns at Basel, visited the Sovereign-Prince at the Hague. The conversations issued in a proposal to unite (with the assent of Austria) the Belgic provinces as far as the Meuse to Holland together with the territory between the Meuse and the Rhine as far as the line Maestricht-Düren-Cologne. Castlereagh submitted this project to the allies at Basel; and it was discussed and adopted in principle at the Conference of Châtillon (February 3 to March 15), the Austrian Emperor having renounced all claim to his Belgian dominions in favour of an equivalent in Venetia. This was done without any attempt to ascertain the wishes of the Belgian people on the proposed transference of their allegiance, and a protest was made. An assembly of notables, which had been summoned to Brussels by the military governor, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, sent a deputation to the allied headquarters at Chaumont to express their continued loyalty to their Habsburg sovereign and to ask that, if the Emperor Francis relinquished his claim, they might be erected into an independent State under the rule of an Austrian archduke. A written reply (March 14) informed them that the question of union with Holland was settled, but assurances were given that in matters of religion, representation, commerce and the public debt their interests would be carefully guarded. Meanwhile General Baron Vincent, a Belgian in the Austrian service, was made governor-general.

The idea, however, of giving to Holland a slice of cis-Rhenan territory had perforce to be abandoned in the face of Prussian objections. The preliminary Treaty of Peace signed at Paris on May 30, 1814, was purposely vague, Art. VI merely declaring that “Holland placed under the sovereignty of the House of Orange shall receive an increase of territory–un accroissement de territoire"; but a secret article defined this increase as “the countries comprised between the sea, the frontiers of France, as defined by the present treaty; and the Meuse shall be united in perpetuity to Holland. The frontiers on the right bank of the Meuse shall be regulated in accordance with the military requirements of Holland and her neighbours.” In other words the whole of Belgium as far as the Meuse was to be annexed to Holland; beyond the Meuse the military requirements of Prussia were to be consulted.

Previously to this, Castlereagh had written to the British Minister at the Hague, Lord Clancarty, suggesting that the Sovereign-Prince should summon a meeting of an equal number of Dutch and Belgian notables to draw up a project of union to be presented to the Allied Sovereigns at Paris for their approbation. But William had already himself, with the assistance of his minister Van Nagell, drawn up in eight articles the fundamental conditions for the constitution of the new State; and, after revision by Falck and Lord Clancarty, he in person took them to Paris. They were laid by Clancarty before the plenipotentiaries, and were adopted by the Allied Sovereigns assembled in London on June 21, 1814. The principles which animated them were set forth in a protocol which breathes throughout a spirit of fairness and conciliation–but all was marred by the final clause–Elles mettent ces principes en exécution en vertu de leur droit de conquete de la Belgique. To unite Belgium to Holland, as a conquered dependency, could not fail to arouse bad feelings; and thus to proclaim it openly was a very grave mistake. It was not thus that that “perfect amalgamation” of the two countries, at which, according to the protocol, the Great Powers aimed, was likely to be effected.

At the same time, as a standing proof of William’s own excellent intentions, the text of the Eight Articles is given in full:

(1) The union shall be intimate and complete, so that the two countries shall form but one State, to be governed by the Fundamental Law already established in Holland, which by mutual consent shall be modified according to the circumstances. (2) There shall be no change in those Articles of the Fundamental Law which secure to all religious cults equal protection and privileges, and guarantee the admissibility of all citizens, whatever be their religious creed, to public offices and dignities. (3) The Belgian provinces shall be in a fitting manner represented in the States-General, whose sittings in time of peace shall be held by turns in a Dutch and a Belgian town. (4) All the inhabitants of the Netherlands thus having equal constitutional rights, they shall have equal claim to all commercial and other rights, of which their circumstances allow, without any hindrance or obstruction being imposed on any to the profit of others. (5) Immediately after the union the provinces and towns of Belgium shall be admitted to the commerce and navigation of the colonies of Holland upon the same footing as the Dutch provinces and towns. (6) The debts contracted on the one side by the Dutch, and on the other side by the Belgian provinces, shall be charged to the public chest of the Netherlands. (7) The expenses required for the building and maintenance of the frontier fortresses of the new State shall be borne by the public chest as serving the security and independence of the whole nation. (8) The cost of the making and upkeep of the dykes shall be at the charge of the districts more directly interested, except in the case of an extraordinary disaster. It is not too much to say that, if the provisions of these Articles had been carried out fully and generously, there might have been at the present moment a strong and united Netherland State.

On July 21 the Articles, as approved by the Powers, were returned to the Sovereign-Prince, who officially accepted them, and on August 1 took over at Brussels the government of the Belgic provinces, while awaiting the decisions of the Congress, which was shortly to meet at Vienna, as to the boundaries and political status of the territories over which he ruled. The work of the Congress, however, which met in October, was much delayed by differences between the Powers. Prussia wished to annex the entire kingdom of Saxony; and, when it was found that such a claim, if persisted in, would be opposed by Great Britain, Austria and France, compensation was sought in the Rhenish provinces. Thus the idea of strengthening the new Netherland buffer-state by an addition of territory in the direction of the Rhine had to be abandoned. It must be remembered that the Sovereign-Prince on his part was not likely to raise any objection to having an enlarged and strengthened Prussia as his immediate neighbour on the east. William was both brother-in-law and first cousin of the King of Prussia, and had spent much of his exile at Berlin; and he no doubt regarded the presence of this strong military power on his frontier as the surest guarantee against French aggression. His relations with Prussia were indeed of the friendliest character, as is shown by the fact that secret negotiations were at this very time taking place for the cession to Prussia of his hereditary Nassau principalities of Dillenburg, Siegen, Dietz and Hadamar in exchange for the Duchy of Luxemburg.

The proceedings of the inharmonious Congress of Vienna were, however, rudely interrupted by the sudden return of Napoleon from Elba. Weary of waiting for a formal recognition of his position, William now (March 15, 1815) issued a proclamation in which he assumed the title of King of the Netherlands and Duke of Luxemburg. No protest was made; and the fait accompli was duly accepted by the Powers (May 23). The first act of the king was to call upon all his subjects, Dutch and Belgians alike, to unite in opposing the common foe. This call to arms led to a considerable force under the command of the hereditary prince being able to join the small British army, which Wellington had hurriedly collected for the defence of Brussels. The sudden invasion of Belgium by Napoleon (June 14) took his adversaries by surprise, for the Anglo-Netherland forces were distributed in different cantonments and were separated from the Prussian army under Blücher, which had entered Belgium from the east. Napoleon in person attacked and defeated Blücher at Ligny on June 16; and on the same day a French force under Ney was, after a desperate encounter, held in check by the British and Dutch regiments, which had been pushed forward to Quatre Bras. Blücher retreated to Wavre and Wellington to Waterloo on the following day. The issue of the battle of Waterloo, which took place on June 18, is well known. The Belgian contingent did not play a distinguished part at Waterloo, but it would be unfair to place to their discredit any lack of steadiness that was shown. These Belgian troops were all old soldiers of Napoleon, to whom they were attached, and in whose invincibility they believed. The Prince of Orange distinguished himself by great courage both at Quatre Bras and Waterloo.

William, after his assumption of the regal title, at once proceeded to regularise his position by carrying out that necessary modification of the Dutch Fundamental Law to which he was pledged by the Eight Articles. He accordingly summoned a Commission of twenty-four members, half Dutch and half Belgian, Catholics and Protestants being equally represented, which on April 22 met under the presidency of Van Hogendorp. Their activity was sharpened by the threat of French invasion, and in three months (July 18) their difficult task was accomplished. The new Fundamental Law made no change in the autocratic powers conferred on the king. The executive authority remained wholly in his hands. The States-General were now to consist of two Chambers, but the First Chamber was a nominated Chamber. It contained forty to sixty members appointed by the king for life. The Second Chamber of 110 members, equally divided between north and south, i.e. fifty-five Dutch and fifty-five Belgian representatives, was elected under a very restricted franchise by the seventeen provinces into which the whole kingdom was divided. The ordinary budget was voted for ten years, and it was only extraordinary expenses which had to be considered annually. The other provisions strictly followed the principles and the liberties guaranteed in advance by the Eight Articles.

The new Fundamental Law was presented to the Dutch States-General on August 8, and was approved by a unanimous vote. Very different was its reception in Belgium. The king had summoned a meeting of 1603 notables to Brussels, of these 1323 were present. The majority were hostile. It had been strongly urged by the Belgian delegates on the Commission that the Belgic provinces, with three and a half millions of inhabitants, ought to return to the Second Chamber of the States-General a number of members proportionately greater than the Dutch provinces, which had barely two millions. The Dutch on their part argued that their country had been an independent State for two centuries and possessed a large colonial empire, while Belgium had always been under foreign rule, and had now been added to Holland “as an increase of territory.” It was finally arranged, however, that the representation of the northern and southern portions of the new kingdom should be equal, 55 each. Belgian public opinion loudly protested, especially as the 55 Belgian deputies included four representatives of Luxemburg, which had been created a separate State under the personal rule of King William. Still more bitter and determined was the opposition of the powerful clerical party to the principle of religious equality. About 99 per cent, of the Belgian population was Catholic; and the bishops were very suspicious of what might be the effect of this principle in the hands of an autocratic Calvinist king, supported by the predominant Protestant majority in Holland. A further grievance was that the heavy public debt incurred by Holland should be made a common burden.

Considerable pressure was brought to bear upon the notables, but without avail. The Fundamental Law was rejected by 796 votes to 527. Confronted with this large hostile majority, the king took upon himself to reverse the decision by an arbitrary and dishonest manipulation of the return. He chose to assume that the 280 notables who had not voted were in favour of the Law, and added their votes to the minority. He then declared that 126 votes had been wrongly given in opposition to the principle of religious equality, which, by the Second of the Eight Articles approved by the Powers was binding and fundamental to the Union, and he then not only deducted them from the majority, but added them also to the minority. He then announced that the Fundamental Law had been accepted by a majority of 263 votes. Such an act of chicanery was not calculated to make the relations between north and south work smoothly. Having thus for reasons of state summarily dealt with the decision of the Belgian notables, William (September 26), made his state entry into Brussels and took his oath to the Constitution.

Already the Congress of Vienna had given the official sanction of the Powers to the creation of the kingdom of the Netherlands by a treaty signed at Paris on May 31, 1815. By this treaty the whole of the former Austrian Netherlands (except the province of Luxemburg) together with the territory which before 1795 had been ruled by the prince-bishops of Liège, the Duchy of Bouillon and several small pieces of territory were added to Holland; and the new State thus created was placed under the sovereignty of the head of the House of Orange-Nassau. As stated above, however, it had been necessary in making these arrangements to conciliate Prussian claims for aggrandisement in the cis-Rhenan provinces. This led to a number of complicated transactions. William ceded to Prussia his ancient hereditary Nassau principalities–Dillenburg, Dietz, Siegen and Hadamar. The equivalent which William received was the sovereignty of Luxemburg, which for this purpose was severed from the Belgian Netherlands, of which it had been one of the provinces since the time of the Burgundian dukes, and was erected into a Grand-Duchy. Further than this, the Grand-Duchy was made one of the states of the Germanic Confederation; and the town of Luxemburg was declared to be a federal fortress, the garrison to consist of Prussian and Dutch detachments under a Prussian commandant. There was a double object in this transaction: (1) to preserve to the Grand-Duke his rights and privileges as a German prince, (2) to secure the defence of this important borderland against French attack. Another complication arose from the fact that in the 14th century the House of Nassau had been divided into two branches, Walram and Otto, the younger branch being that of which the Prince of Orange was the head. But by a family-pact[9], agreed upon in 1735 and renewed in 1783, the territorial possessions of either line in default of male-heirs had to pass to the next male-agnate of the other branch. This pact therefore, by virtue of the exchange that had taken place, applied to the new Grand-Duchy. It is necessary here to explain what took place in some detail, for this arbitrary wrenching of Luxemburg from its historical position as an integral part of the Netherlands was to have serious and disconcerting consequences in the near future.

The new kingdom of the Netherlands naturally included Luxemburg, so that William was a loser rather than a gainer by the cession of his Nassau possessions; but his close relation by descent and marriage with the Prussian Royal House made him anxious to meet the wishes of a power on whose friendship he relied. All evidence also points to the conclusion that in accepting the personal sovereignty of the Grand-Duchy he had no intention of treating Luxemburg otherwise than as part of his kingdom. The Fundamental Law was made to apply to Luxemburg, in the same way as to Brabant or Flanders; and of the 55 members allotted to the Belgic provinces, four were representatives of the Grand-Duchy, which was subject to the same legislation and taxes as the kingdom. At first the king had thought of nominating his second son Frederick as his successor in Luxemburg, but he changed his mind and gave him an indemnity elsewhere; and he himself states the reason, “since we have judged it advisable (convenable) in the general interest of the kingdom to unite the Grand-Duchy to it and to place it under the same constitutional laws.”

The boundaries of the new kingdom and of the Grand-Duchy were fixed by the treaty of May 31, 1815, and confirmed by the General Act of the Congress of Vienna. By this treaty Prussia received a considerable part of the old province of Luxemburg as well as slices of territory taken from the bishopric of Liège. A separate boundary treaty a year later (June 26, 1816) between the Netherlands and Prussia filled in the details of that of 1815; and that Prussia herself acquiesced in the fusion of the kingdom and the Grand-Duchy is shown by the fact that the boundary between Prussia and Luxemburg is three times referred to in the later treaty as the boundary between Prussia and the kingdom of the Netherlands.


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)
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