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Part 2 /3 The History of the Netherlands

Gepost in Geschiedenis Nederland

history of holland

The Dutch republic at war:1568-1813

1588 - The Republic of the United Provinces

In 1588 the Republic of the United Provinces consisted of the seven sovereign provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland, Groningen, Overijssel and Gelderland, the most powerful being Holland. Each of the provinces elected a Stadholder. The office of Stadholder had originally been intended for the King of Spain's representative or proxy but under the Republic the Stadholder became the servant of the States and an entirely new form of government came into being. This was headed by the States General, which was made up of representatives of the seven sovereign provinces and met in The Hague. Because unanimity was required in voting on matters relating to defence and taxation, and because such issues had to be debated by the provincial assemblies first, it was difficult for the States General to act decisively and decision-making was subject to long delays. Each of the provinces also had a paid legal adviser or 'Pensionary', known in Holland as the Advocate. These were influential officials, especially in a powerful province like Holland, since they acted as spokesmen for their provinces in the States General and also as intermediaries between the States and foreign powers.

Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Johan de Witt were the most influential of these Advocates or Grand Pensionaries, as they were later called.

Following the departure of the Earl of Leicester in 1587, the situation seemed desperate. He took with him the troops under his command and the States were left to rely wholly on their own resources. Moreover, the might of Spain seemed about to subjugate Protestant England through the efforts of the Armada, backed by the land-based forces of the Duke of Parma. However, the expedition was a disaster. Admiral Justinus van Nassau was able to prevent Parma's army from joining forces with the Spanish fleet and the English navy was able, with the assistance of ships from Zeeland and Holland, to smash the 'invincible' Armada. Further decimated by storms, the remaining ships sailed north round Scotland to limp home to Spain. Of the original 130 ships, only about 80 survived. This triumph over Catholic Spain won the Protestant states great respect in Europe.

stadhouder prins mauritsWith the help of the political strategist Oldenbarnevelt, William of Orange's son Maurice improved the organisation of resistance to Spain. He reorganised the army and introduced new techniques of warfare. Oldenbarnevelt provided him with the necessary funding by uniting the States and promoting Maurice as the new Stadholder.

Leicester, who had come from England to help defend the provinces against the Spanish but then usurped more and more power, certainly helped to encourage the development of Oldenbarnevelt's political genius and the growth of unity within the States. Maurice's greatest successes were the capture of Breda in 1590, when he smuggled 68 young men into the town in the hold of a ship carrying peat, and the defeat of the Spaniards at Nieuwpoort in 1600. His closest military associate was William Louis, Count of Nassau and Stadholder of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe.

1602 - United East India Company

The Portuguese discovered the sea route to the Far East towards the end of the 15th century. They were quickly followed by the Spanish and for some time Portugal and Spain were the only European nations with a presence in the region. The fledgling Republic saw its chance clear to gain a share of this lucrative trade and the first Dutch ships set sail for the Far East in 1595. The voyage took two years but the prospects seemed encouraging. Various 'distant trade companies' were rapidly set up in the Republic and competed fiercely with each other. In order to avoid confrontation with the Spanish and Portuguese, the Dutch sought an alternative north-easterly passage, but driven back by the harsh climatic conditions they abandoned these attempts and returned to the known route round Africa.

vlag voc

In 1602 Johan van Oldenbarnevelt managed to bring together the rival companies into the United East India Company (VOC). This was based on the example of the English East India Company, but swiftly outgrew its rival because of its far greater starting capital. Shares were issued to the value of 6.5 million guilders and could be bought by any resident of the Republic. With the resulting capital, the company built a substantial armed merchant fleet. The VOC had six local branches or 'chambers', which represented the towns of Amsterdam, Middelburg, Delft, Rotterdam, Hoorn and Enkhuizen in the governing body, known as the 'Heeren XVII'.

The States endowed the Company with wide powers including the monopoly of trade and navigation between the Republic and the Far East, authority to conclude alliances, equip land and seaborne forces, appoint governors and judges and administer justice in relation to its employees. In its day, it was the most successful commercial enterprise in the world. It also became an economic, political and military weapon against the Spanish and Portuguese. At the height of its power, the VOC had trading stations in Persia, India, China, Japan and the East Indies. On Java, it founded the town of Batavia (present-day Jakarta), which became the hub of VOC trading operations in the Far East. In Japan, it represented for many years (right through to 1854) the only European power permitted to trade and from 1602 to 1799 the VOC enjoyed an absolute monopoly of Dutch trade with the Far East.

In 1621 a similar enterprise - the Dutch West India Company (WIC) - was established to trade with Africa and the West Indies. In 1623 Piet Heyn was appointed vice-admiral of the fleet. The best-known feat of his career was the seizure of the Spanish treasure fleet off the coast of Cuba in 1628. The booty was worth 12 million guilders: an unprecedented sum at that time. This success was part of a plan systematically to attack ships carrying silver from the New World to Spain. In fact, it was in privateering - a form of piracy licensed by the States - that the WIC achieved its greatest successes. Maurice and Oldenbarnevelt felt that Piet Heyn's abilities as a commander and strategist made him the best person to reform Holland's fleet and in 1629 he was appointed Lieutenant-Admiral of Holland. Unfortunately, he was killed before the year was out in a campaign against the Dunkirk pirates.

1600-1700 - The Golden Age

low countries 1609 1672The 17th century is known in Dutch history as the 'Golden Age' because it marked a period of unprecedented cultural flowering and economic growth in the Low Countries. This was in stark contrast to the economic stagnation and decline experienced elsewhere in Europe right through to 1750. In the Republic, the new political structures put in place in the 16th century were expanded and refined. They were dominated not so much by the nobility or the clergy, as elsewhere in Europe, but by a middle-class elite drawn mainly from the wealthy merchant families and known in Dutch history as the regent class. Consequently, political decisions were taken less (as in neighbouring countries like England or France) with a view to gaining greater power or influence in Europe or elsewhere in the world, than to promote or safeguard the nation's trading interests. Amsterdam evolved into the world's leading port and commercial centre. The key to its success was its status as an entrepot, indispensable to the selling on, transhipment, warehousing and processing of imported products.

Around 1670 the Republic had some 15,000 vessels - five times the number in the English fleet. This gave it a virtual monopoly of the carrying trade around the world. The economy benefited particularly from trade with distant lands. Spices, pepper, silks and cottons were imported from the East Indies, Bengal, Ceylon and Malacca, while the triangular trade between the west coast of Africa, Brazil and the Caribbean, and Europe was chiefly in plantation goods like sugar, salt, tobacco and brazil wood. Later, slaves were added to the list. Initially, the Dutch merchantmen sailed to Africa solely in search of gold and ivory and eschewed the slave trade. But eventually they came to accept it as a fact of life. To justify their dealings in slaves, they turned to the Bible and claimed that Africans were the sons and daughters of Ham, who was cursed and condemned to servitude by his father, Noah, and had (they said) passed on the curse to the whole population of Africa.

The status of Amsterdam as the financial capital of the world was due mainly to the Amsterdam Exchange Bank, set up in 1609 as an official body to facilitate financial transactions. These were complicated by the many different forms of coinage in circulation. The Exchange Bank accepted cash of all kinds and registered its value in guilders in the owner's bank account. This laid the basis for the cashless transfer of funds.

But the Golden Age is known not only as a time of economic boom. Culturally too, the Republic towered over the rest of Europe. An unusual feature for the time was the marked influence of the bourgeoisie on the various arts. This was especially true of painting, a field in which the best remembered practitioners of the period include Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hoogh, Jacob van Ruysdael, Gerard Dou and - greatest of all - Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt (1606-1669) was born in Leiden, the son of a local miller, and spent a year at the academy there before being apprenticed to a local artist, Jacob van Swanenberg, and later to the Amsterdam painter Pieter Pietersz. Lastman. In 1625 he returned to Leiden and set up as an independent artist. Seven years later, however, he moved back to Amsterdam and took lodgings with the art dealer Hendrik van Uylenburgh, whose cousin, Saskia van Uylenburgh, he married a year later. Of their four children only one, Titus, survived.

After Saskia's death in 1642, Rembrandt's financial circumstances became increasingly difficult, culminating in bankruptcy and the distraint of many of his paintings and other possessions. By that time he was living with Hendrickje Stoffels, who bore him a daughter, Cornelia. Hendrickje and Titus acted as Rembrandt's agents, finding sufficient commissions for him to settle his debts. Most of these commissions came from the wealthy citizens and merchants of Amsterdam. Rembrandt died in 1669 and was buried in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt painted many portraits, including the world-famous group portrait known to posterity as The Night Watch. Biblical scenes and self-portraits are a major feature of his oeuvre. His best-known works include the Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, Portrait of Saskia as Flora, The Sampling Officials of the Drapers' Guild (De Staalmeesters), The Bridal Couple ("The Jewish Bride") and The Holy Family. Nowadays, Rembrandt's works are dispersed throughout Europe and the United States. Major collections can be found in the print room of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Boymans-Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, the print room of the British Museum in London, the Albertina in Vienna and the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.

In the field of literature too, the Republic produced famous names like Jacob Cats, Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft, Bredero, Constantijn Huygens and Joost van den Vondel (a poet whose most famous works included his classical tragedies Gijsbrecht van Amstel and Lucifer, which are still regularly performed). Another figure worth mentioning is Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), a Dutch jurist who was a distinguished theologian, classicist, historian, statesman and diplomat. One of his best known works was the legal masterpiece On the Law of War and Peace, in which he defended the doctrine of the just war if a dispute could not be settled in any other way. One section of this work, on the doctrine of the freedom of the seas, argues that (apart from a narrow three-mile coastal zone) the seas cannot be regarded as subject to any particular power. This study is still regarded as the basis of the law of the sea.

During the Golden Age, Amsterdam attracted immigrants from all over Europe and beyond. All kinds of people migrated to this metropolis, where religious dissent was tolerated and work was freely available. Flemish, Portuguese, English, French, German and Polish visitors flocked to admire the city. Their number even included the Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, who studied the latest shipbuilding techniques in Zaandam, just north of Amsterdam, with a view to modernising the Russian fleet. The father of Baruch Spinoza, a Jew fleeing religious persecution in Portugal, was another newcomer to Amsterdam. His son (1632-1677) became famous throughout Europe and corresponded with a host of major contemporary figures. His contacts with liberal Christians and free-thinkers eventually led to his expulsion from the Jewish community and his departure from Amsterdam. His most celebrated work is the Ethics, in which he used mathematics to unite the Jewish mystical tradition and rational scientific thought in a single all-encompassing vision. His work, together with that of Voltaire and Descartes, had a great influence on the Enlightenment.

In the mid-17th century, England and France intensified their attacks on the economic hegemony of the Republic. England promulgated the Navigation Act in 1651 and on land the Republic waged exhausting wars against Louis XIV of France. The economic burdens imposed by these events eventually brought about the end of the Golden Age. By the early eighteenth century, it was all over.

1609-1621 - The Twelve Years' Truce

By around 1600, the Republic had become a great power. Back in 1596, France and England had recognised the Republic by forming a triple alliance with it. As a result, the war with Spain became part of a wider anti-Habsburg campaign headed by France. In 1600, Prince Maurice, who was both Stadholder and commander of the Republic's land and sea forces, was instructed by the States General and the great merchants to occupy the towns along the Flemish coast and extirpate the pirates based at Dunkirk, who posed a constant threat to the Republic's growing merchant fleet. Maurice undertook the expedition very much against his better judgement. His forces clashed with those of Archduke Albert, governor-general of the southern Netherlands and son-in-law of Philip II of Spain, in the dunes at Nieuwpoort. Maurice managed to win the battle but was unable to fulfil his mission of seizing the Flemish towns and Dunkirk. At sea, too, the war continued, with Jacob van Heemskerck overcoming a Spanish fleet near Gibraltar in 1607. This was the first major naval victory by the Republic and was of great strategic value. Van Heemskerck himself perished during the fighting.

In 1608 Spain and the Republic held peace talks in The Hague, with England and France present as mediators. This culminated in the signing of the Twelve Years' Truce in 1609. The issue led to a confrontation between the two most powerful men in the Republic: the Stadholder, Prince Maurice, would have preferred hostilities to continue, while the Grand Pensionary, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, championed peace. It was not the only issue dividing them. Within the Reformed Church, a bitter conflict had broken out between two groups calling themselves Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants. The prince took the side of the Counter-Remonstrants, who advocated doctrinal orthodoxy, while Oldenbarnevelt supported the more moderate Remonstrants. Feelings ran high and civil war seemed imminent. The Counter-Remonstrants emerged victorious from the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618. Subsequently, a specially constituted tribunal found Oldenbarnevelt guilty of high treason and he was executed in The Hague on 13 May 1619. The religious controversy, and particularly the attitude adopted by Prince Maurice, inflicted lasting damage on the relationship between the States General and the House of Orange.

The Twelve Years' Truce expired in 1621. An initial desire to replace the Truce by a definitive peace treaty foundered in the face of unacceptable demands on the Spanish side. On 23 April 1625, Prince Maurice died. He was succeeded by his half-brother Frederick Henry, Count of Nassau and Prince of Orange, William of Orange's youngest son born to his fourth wife Louise de Coligny. Frederick Henry breathed new life into the conflict with Spain, taking many towns from the Spanish and thereby earning the name 'stedendwinger' (conqueror of towns). He owed his military training to Prince Maurice and Simon Stevin, a mathematical engineer employed by the Stadholder.

In 1639 a second Spanish Armada was dispatched to the Low Countries with 20,000 men on board, in a further attempt to subdue the rebel States. Admiral Maarten Tromp sailed against it with a much smaller fleet and destroyed the Armada in the Battle of the Downs.

1648 - The Treaty of Münster

Despite Frederick Henry's victories, the southern Netherlands were still largely Catholic and in Spanish hands. Negotiations had already taken place with France about the division of the region. Frederick Henry died on 14 March 1647 after peace negotiations had opened in Münster between France, Spain and the Republic. The following year, these resulted in the Treaty of Münster, under which both the King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor recognised the United Provinces as a free and sovereign state. This brought an end to 80 years of warfare with Spain and terminated the formal ties between the Republic and the Holy Roman Empire. Since the existing front lines became the new national frontiers, the Republic gained sovereignty over a number of conquered territories, not only in Brabant, Flanders and Limburg but also in the East and West Indies. The territories in the southern Netherlands were placed under the direct authority of the States General and were thereafter known as the 'Generality Lands'.

Frederick Henry was succeeded as Stadholder by his son William II, who, in 1641, had married Mary Stuart, the ten-year-old daughter of the British King Charles I. Like his father, William II was fiercely opposed to peace with Spain. The States, however, were glad to be relieved of the financial burden of war and refused to go on funding the troops. William retaliated by marching on Amsterdam in an attempt to force them to keep the army up to strength. On 6 November 1650, however, he suddenly died of smallpox, just a week before the birth of his son, William III. Guardianship of the infant prince was initially shared between his mother, Mary Stuart, his grandmother, Amalia van Solms, and his uncle, the Elector of Prussia. However, after Mary Stuart died in 1661, the States of Holland assumed responsibility for the upbringing of the orphan boy, termed 'the child of state'. In 1653 Johan de Witt became Grand Pensionary of Holland and hence one of the most influential people in the Republic. The period of William III's minority, between 1650 and 1672, is known as the 'first Stadholderless period'.

1672 - Year of Disasters

Britain and the Republic, both Protestant powers, shared many political interests but clashed increasingly from 1651 on because of their conflicting trade interests and maritime rivalry. The main cause of tension was the English Navigation Act of that year. Its purpose was to undermine the monopoly enjoyed by Dutch ships in Europe and in the East and West Indies, and it roused great indignation. The States reacted by equipping 150 merchant ships for use in battle and 1652 saw the outbreak of the first Anglo-Dutch War. Maarten Tromp, Michiel de Ruyter and Witte de With achieved some successes, but also suffered losses against the English. In 1654 peace returned between the two countries, but a few years later King Charles II declared war on the Republic again. This second Anglo-Dutch War lasted from 1665 to 1667. To strengthen the Republic's hand in the reopened peace negotiations of 1667, Michiel de Ruyter sailed a Dutch fleet into the Medway, to the Chatham naval base, where he destroyed a large part of the English fleet and captured the flagship, the 'Royal Charles'. In July, peace was concluded by an agreement substantially modifying the provisions of the Navigation Act.

1672 is known in Dutch history books as the 'Year of Disasters'. In that year, Louis XIV concluded an alliance with Charles II and two German prince-bishops and declared war on the Republic. The Republic was invaded from the south by the French and from the east by their German allies, while the French and English fleets formed a constant threat at sea. Only Holland and Zeeland and the city of Groningen did not fall to the invading forces. Meanwhile, a power struggle was going on in the Republic itself. Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt was a fierce opponent of the powerful House of Orange and took the side of those who wished to abolish the post of Stadholder, while the clergy and the proletariat were enthusiastic supporters of the House of Orange. The States of Holland enacted an 'Eternal Edict' proclaiming the abolition of the post of Stadholder and effectively stripping the House of Orange of all its powers. This frustrated the ambitions of William III, who was now old enough to lay claim to the command of the armed forces and the title of Stadholder. However, the States of Zeeland appointed William as Stadholder and the other provinces followed suit. The power of Johan de Witt was broken. He was blamed for the invasion, on the grounds that he had neglected the army and underestimated the threat of a French invasion. Before the year was out, he and his brother Cornelis were murdered by a frenzied mob of William's supporters in The Hague.

In the following year, under the command of William III, the Republic's armies drove out all the enemy troops; Michiel de Ruyter defeated the Anglo-French fleet, and in 1674 the Republic and Britain signed a new peace treaty. Peace was also concluded with the bishops of Cologne and Münster and in 1676 peace negotiations began with France. In the same year, Michiel de Ruyter perished in a naval battle in the Mediterranean. Despite the war, Louis XIV showed his respect for the great admiral by ordering a salute to be fired by all the French coastal batteries as the vessel carrying De Ruyter's body passed by. Two years later, a peace treaty was signed in Nijmegen, under which the Republic regained all its southern territories occupied by France.

1688 - The Glorious Revolution

In 1677 William III married Mary Stuart, the elder daughter of the Duke of York and the direct heir to Willem IIIthe British throne. William III was an astute politician and statesman who sought to preserve the balance of power in Europe by means of alliances and was especially anxious to thwart Louis XIV's expansionist aims and his religious zeal. In 1685 Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted the Huguenots freedom of worship. In response, 400,000 skilled and educated Protestants fled the country and sought refuge in the Republic, Britain and the Protestant German principalities. This gave rise to a new wave of anti-French feeling in the Republic. In Britain, the Catholic James II (William III's father-in-law) came to the throne. He quickly introduced pro-Catholic measures and concluded an alliance with France. The English parliament pleaded with William and his wife Mary to intervene. In November 1688, with the consent of the States General, William set sail with a great army to restore the laws and freedoms of England. James II promptly fled to France and the 'Glorious Revolution' resulted in a constitutional monarchy. When in 1689 the English parliament proclaimed William and Mary joint monarchs, William III became a King, as well as being Stadholder of the Republic.

William III's constant aim had been to create a grand alliance against the French. He finally succeeded in the same year as he was crowned King in England. The anti-French coalition included the Austrian emperor, several German states and even Spain. But by that time war had already broken out between the Republic and France. It was to last nine years and bring little success. The heavy costs involved inflicted great damage on the economy, leading to higher unemployment. This provoked a popular uprising among the people of Amsterdam, who were tired of costly wars.

1702-1713 - The War of the Spanish Succession

William III was first and foremost a political animal, and in that sense the most internationally minded Prince of Orange ever. He left the governance of the Republic to his faithful followers, whom he had appointed to key posts. In 1700 the last Habsburg king of Spain, Charles II, died childless. Louis XIV of France thought he had a hereditary claim to certain Spanish possessions and managed without too much difficulty to place his grandson Philip, Duke of Anjou, on the Spanish throne. However, his claims were disputed by William III and by the Holy Roman Emperor, himself a Habsburg. The result was the War of the Spanish Succession, which broke out in 1702. In the same year, William himself died childless following a riding accident. In Britain, the throne passed to Anne, the sister of William's late wife, Mary Stuart. In most of the Republic, his death ushered in a second Stadholderless period. Friesland, however, retained its own Stadholder: Johan Willem Friso, whose grandmother was Frederick Henry's daughter. This aspect of his genealogy gave him a claim to become Stadholder of all the other provinces in the Republic. William III had in fact wanted to make him his successor, but the idea was opposed by the States of Holland.

The War of the Spanish Succession marked the start of a period of economic decline in the Republic. As in previous centuries, the southern Netherlands became the scene of incessant hostilities. Once again, the bone of contention was the territories subject to competing French, British and Dutch claims. And, once again, the people clamoured for a leader. In 1707 Johan Willem Friso, Stadholder of Friesland, was appointed to head the army. Many prominent figures in the Republic were in favour of appointing him Stadholder of the remaining provinces, but in 1711 he accidentally drowned while crossing the Hollands Diep. His son, Karel Hendrik Friso (later William IV), was born posthumously.

In 1713 the Peace of Utrecht was signed between Britain, Prussia, Portugal, Savoy and the Republic on the one hand and France on the other. Peace with Spain followed the year after. To obtain it, however, the Republic had to make major concessions. The southern Netherlands came under Austrian rule. The Republic retained only Venlo and Stevensweert and the right to garrison forts in the south. The principality of Orange reverted to France, but the title Prince of Orange was retained by William IV and his heirs.

1747 - Stadholder William IV

The period between 1702 and 1747, when William IV became Stadholder of the Republic, is known as the 'second Stadholderless period'. From 1715 on, the international political power of the States was severely reduced by internal divisions and the time-consuming system of government. Following the Peace of Utrecht, the regents, as represented in the States General, took the attitude that the Republic no longer needed to play a prominent role in international politics. This decision was prompted on the one hand by a sense of reality and on the other by a penny-pinching calculation that the costs outweighed any likely benefits. The general crisis of confidence was also caused by the tendency of the affluent classes to invest their money in neighbouring countries, where the economic situation was more encouraging. It was therefore difficult to get investment in the Republic off the ground. The period also saw two disastrous epidemics: one of pileworm and the other of cattle plague. The pileworm, which had come in from the Caribbean, bored holes not only in the wooden ships of the period but also in the wooden piles reinforcing the river dikes and sea defences. Catastrophic flooding was frequently only narrowly averted. The cattle plague was a disaster not only for the farmers, but also for exporters of dairy products.

In 1729, William IV reached the age of majority and assumed the post of Stadholder in four of the provinces. In 1740, a new war of succession broke out, this time between Austria and France. The Republic gave its support to Austria, prompting French troops to invade the south of the country. The people clamoured for William IV to be appointed Stadholder of the entire Republic. In May 1747 this was eventually done and at the same time the post was made hereditary. William was given more extensive powers than his predecessors but in the four years of his rule made little use of them to stamp out abuses such as high taxation and the sale of political offices. After a long illness, he died in 1751, leaving a three-year-old son as his successor. The child's mother, Anne of Hanover, became regent, assisted by the Austrian Duke of Brunswick (Braunschweig-Wolffenbüttel), Willem Bentinck and the Grand Pensionary of Holland, Pieter Steyn. When Princess Anne herself died in 1759, the Duke of Brunswick was appointed to act as William V's guardian until he came of age in 1766.

1781 - The Patriot Movement

The outbreak of the American War of Independence was followed with considerable sympathy in the Republic, if only because the American proponents of independence from the British were inspired by the 16th-century Dutch revolt against Spain. They were especially interested in the idea expressed by William of Orange in his Apology that circumstances could justify deposing a ruler.

In 1776, an American rebel brig, the Andrew Doria, appeared off the Dutch-held island of Sint Eustatius, now part of the Netherlands Antilles. The governor of the island ordered the firing of a salute, making the Republic the first country to accord de facto recognition to the United States as a sovereign state. William V found himself isolated in his sympathy with Britain and could see no value in the government reforms demanded by the democratic Patriot movement.

In 1780 an accord between Amsterdam and the American rebels on a future trade agreement led to the outbreak of the fourth Anglo-Dutch war. The Republic had seriously neglected its fleet and was now no match for the British navy. Many merchant ships fell into British hands or were forced to take evasive action, causing great damage to trade. These political and economic setbacks provoked widespread unrest. This was reinforced by the influence of the French Enlightenment, proclaiming an optimistic belief in the potential and reason of the individual, and prompting a push for democracy among the educated bourgeoisie. The wealthy merchant families had by this time evolved into a closed regent caste in control of all major political posts. Relations between the supporters of the House of Orange, who adhered closely to orthodox Protestant doctrine, and the emerging Patriots became increasingly strained. The situation culminated in the publication of a pamphlet addressed 'To the People of the Netherlands' written by an aristocratic Patriot called Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol. This stated the aims of the Patriot movement and identified the House of Orange as the root of all evil. The pamphlet called for the modernisation and democratisation of the mouldering Republic. The years that followed saw clashes between the Patriots and supporters of the Stadholder, even amounting to the threat of civil war. In 1785, under threat from the Patriotic militias known as 'Free Corps', William V moved from The Hague to Nijmegen. In 1787, William's brother-in-law, the King of Prussia, dispatched troops to the Republic to restore order and many Patriots sought refuge in France.

In 1789 France was engulfed in revolution. In Brabant, which was under Austrian rule, there were also two opposing parties: the conservative Statists and the democratic Vonckists. Eventually, in 1789, this 'Brabant Revolution' led to the area's invasion and annexation by France. In the north, William V was reinstated as Stadholder and took up residence in Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn.

1793 - The Batavian Republic

The restoration of William V's power as Stadholder as a result of Prussian intervention proved to be an illusion. The many Patriots who had fled to France and witnessed the revolution there were inspired to hope that they might likewise be able to bring about the overthrow of the ruling class in their own country. Events were triggered in 1792 by France's declaration of war on Austria and Prussia. French troops once again invaded the southern (Austrian) Netherlands, but were driven out again by Austrian forces. A year later, in 1793, France declared war on the Republic and on Britain and finally managed to occupy the southern Netherlands. In 1795 Utrecht and Amsterdam were also occupied by French troops and William V fled to England. Trees were planted throughout the Netherlands to celebrate the country's liberation. Whereas the revolution in France was accompanied by copious bloodshed, the overthrow of the Dutch ancien régime is sometimes referred to as the 'velvet revolution'. Throughout the country, the ruling members of the regent class were replaced by Patriots and the States General was replaced by a National Assembly elected by all members of the male population over the age of 20 and meeting certain other qualifications. Henceforth, the 'Batavian Republic' was to be ruled by the ideals of the French revolution.

bataafse republiek

In the same year, France and the Republic concluded the Treaty of The Hague. Among its stipulations was the provision that the Republic was to provide the French with the support of half of its land-based and naval forces, maintain 25,000 French troops, pay France reparation of 100 million guilders and cede to France the towns of Venlo and Maastricht. The imposition of even more stringent conditions was averted by the intervention of Pieter Paulus, president of the still surviving States General. The signing of the Treaty of The Hague caused Britain to declare war on the Republic and occupy the Dutch colonies.

In 1796 the National Assembly appointed a committee to draft a written constitution but opinions were initially divided on whether the traditional autonomy of the provinces should be replaced by a centralised unitary state. The strength of feeling on both sides led to a number of attempted coups d'état but ultimately, in 1798, the proponents of central government carried the day. Another innovation was the equal status accorded to all religious denominations, allowing non-Protestants to take an active part in political life for the first time since the Eighty Years' War

 

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