The Kingdom of the Netherlands 1813-1914
1813 - King William I
At the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the victorious powers decided to create a buffer of strong states to contain the expansionist tendencies of France. The new Kingdom of the Netherlands, with William I as its king, was one of these. This unification of the southern and northern Netherlands was not universally welcomed. The south (present-day Belgium) was still primarily Catholic and continued to regard the northern Calvinists as heretics. It had particularly strong objections to the guarantees of equality offered by the new constitution of 1814 to all existing religious denominations. The bicameral parliament of the new state possessed few means of exercising influence on the government of the kingdom. As crown appointees, the members of the Upper House were popularly referred to as 'la ménagerie du roi'. The members of the Lower House were elected and included equal numbers of representatives from north and south. The parliament was initially docile but as time went on offered increasingly bitter resistance to matters such as the king's attempts to influence the curricula of the Catholic seminaries and the introduction of Dutch as the official language, even in the French-speaking provinces. Opposition was exacerbated by the decision to consolidate the debt burden of the two countries. This was seen as unreasonable because the debts of the north were much greater. The personality of William I did nothing to improve relations. He saw himself as an enlightened despot, an attitude which was accepted in the north but not in the south. He preferred to rule by Royal Decree, which did not require the approval of parliament. This made him even less popular.
King William I's services to the Netherlands were mainly economic. They earned him the nickname of 'the merchant king'. His attempts to weld the southern and northern Netherlands into a single state were motivated by commercial considerations. He recognised that the trading spirit of the north and the industrial activities of the south were complementary and that the apparently conflicting interests of the two regions could in fact work to the advantage of both. However, his hopes of forging a unified state out of the two countries were to be frustrated.
William invested heavily in new projects and expanded his own powers. He insisted that the Lower House should cede to him much of the right to decide on government finances and parliament had no say at all in the government of the colonies, which Britain had now returned to the Netherlands.
William instigated the establishment of a series of bodies designed to improve the national economy: in 1814, the Bank of the Netherlands, which was to start issuing Dutch bank notes; in 1818, a society (Algemene Maatschappij voor Volksvlijt) to encourage industry and combat the impoverishment of the country; and in 1824 the Netherlands Trading Society, founded to succeed the Dutch East India Company in the hope of winning back a major share of world trade. William also commissioned the construction of innumerable canals in both the north and the south and initiated the introduction of steam railways. His efforts to introduce modern industrial methods were chiefly successful in the south, but could not prevent the north remaining for a long time a country of poor farm labourers and artisans. The colonies - and in particular the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia) - retained their economic importance. Although fewer than in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were still very extensive.
1830 - Belgian independence
Belgium opposed the involuntary unification of the two countries from the start. The first disturbances broke out in Brussels in 1830 and soon escalated into a full-scale revolt. William I dispatched troops to Brussels under the command of his son, Prince Frederick, but street-fighting broke out and they were forced to withdraw after three days. Shortly afterwards, the secession of Belgium was proclaimed. Initially an attempt was made to resolve the differences by introducing separate administrations for north and south or by amending the constitution, but William rejected all proposals to this effect and in 1831 launched a military attack on Brussels. In the course of this 'Ten-Day Campaign' he defeated the Belgian army but was forced to withdraw when French forces came to its assistance. Britain and France took the side of the Belgians and called on William to abandon his aspirations. When the king refused, they imposed an embargo on all Dutch shipping and blockaded the ports.
On 4 June 1831, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was elected King of the Belgians. In 1831, at the London Conference held between Britain, France and the Netherlands, the secession of Belgium was agreed in a treaty containing 24 articles. The embargo was lifted, but Britain and France still maintained their armies on a war footing. It was not until 1838 that William finally accepted the secession, leading to the signing of a final treaty with Belgium the following year.
The name Belgium is derived from the Belgae, a group of Celtic tribes which inhabited the area in Roman times. The Emperor Augustus dubbed the area the Roman province of Belgica.The new country had already enjoyed a brief foretaste of independence during the Brabant Revolution of 1789 and the forces striving for Belgian independence had continued to agitate during the period of union with the northern Netherlands.
William I was deeply disappointed by the secession of Belgium. Downcast by this event and by the vigorous opposition to his forthcoming second marriage to the Catholic Henriëtte d'Oultremont de Wégimont, he abdicated in 1840. His death followed on 12 December 1843.
1848 - Constitutional reform
The secession of Belgium necessitated a revision of the constitution. Some liberals, including Johan Thorbecke and Dirk Donker Curtius, wanted to exploit the opportunity to effect sweeping reforms giving greater authority to the States General, but these were opposed by the new king, William II, who had come to the throne on 7 October 1840. During the reign of William I, the ministers had been responsible only to him, and pursued their policies independently of parliament. The reformers urged the adoption of the principle of ministerial accountability to the 'elected' Lower House of parliament. Their arguments to this effect were unsuccessful in 1840, as were their pleas for more open government and direct elections.
Then came the wave of 1848 revolutions aimed at establishing liberal political systems in the German states, in Austria and in France. In February, Louis-Philippe was swept from power in France, and in March a revolution in Austria was suppressed with much bloodshed. In Germany, Frederick William IV of Prussia made some concessions, but dissolved the national assembly when it refused to comply with his wishes. Unrest also broke out in The Hague and Amsterdam. Afraid that it would spread further, William II abandoned his opposition to constitutional change. His fear of revolution was sufficient to convert him to liberalism literally overnight.
Within the year, a new constitution had been drafted under the guiding hand of Johan Rudolf Thorbecke (1798-1872). Its main provisions were the direct election of the Lower House and the provincial and municipal councils, the election of the Upper House by the provincial councils, the opening up to the public of all meetings of representative assemblies and the introduction of the principle of ministerial responsibility. (This meant that ministers, not the monarch, were to be answerable for the actions of government.) The new constitution also introduced freedom of education, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression (including freedom of the press) and freedom of religion.
The new constitution not only gave the Netherlands a completely new political system in which primacy lay with the Lower House, it also established a number of fundamental civil rights. William III (1817-1890), who had succeeded his father in 1849, clashed with the Lower House on several occasions. He was in the habit of dissolving parliament whenever he disagreed with proposed legislation, in the hope that a new election would return a majority more sympathetic to his views. His right to do this was fiercely contested by the liberals under the leadership of Thorbecke. Faced by a largely liberal assembly, he finally conceded the point and agreed that governments would henceforth only be forced to resign if they had lost the confidence of the Lower House. The Netherlands changed from a country with a ruling élite and a monarch wielding great personal power to one in which the monarchy would henceforth play only a minor role in the government of the state.
In 1880, Princess Wilhelmina was born of William III's second marriage to the 20-year-old German princess Emma van Waldeck-Pyrmont. As their only child, she became heir to the throne at the age of four, following the deaths of the two surviving sons from William's first marriage, William (in 1879) and Alexander (in 1884).
1870 - The Dutch East Indies
The 1860s and 1870s saw the rise of a new class of entrepreneurs who derived their wealth and influence from a concentration on production and corporate growth. These first Dutch 'captains of industry' emerged in the steel (Stork), textile (Ten Cate), electronics (Philips), oil (Shell) and food (Unilever) industries. It was also the time of the discovery of mass markets. Increasing affluence brought a rising population. Whereas in 1840 the population of the Netherlands numbered approximately three million, by 1914 it had more than doubled and exceeded six million.
The liberal belief in progress, based on an optimistic view of the future and a faith in human perfectibility, enabled the masses to better themselves. Faith in progress was also nourished by the development of technology, which gave rise to economic as well as political liberalism. This in turn allowed the development of welfare economics.
However, government was concerned not only with internal affairs. There were also overseas colonies to be administered. The most important of these was the Dutch East Indies. The liberals wished to reform the traditional 'culture system' there, which obliged the indigenous population to work for a pittance to cultivate and supply tropical export crops like coffee and sugar. At least 45 per cent of the population of Java was involved in this system. Between 1850 and 1860, profits from the colonies accounted for over 30 per cent of the Netherlands' total revenue. However, there was increasing opposition to the system on humanitarian grounds.
This gained a voice in the person of Eduard Douwes Dekker, who had worked in the East Indies colonial administration at Lebak. In 1860, writing under the pseudonym 'Multatuli', he published a novel entitled 'Max Havelaar or the Coffee Auctions of the Netherlands Trading Society'. Dekker had already resigned in protest at the exploitation of the local people by indigenous rulers. The novel was not anti-colonial. Dekker intended it as a denunciation of the injustice that was being done to the people of the country and permitted or even encouraged by the Dutch administration. The impact of 'Max Havelaar' on Dutch public opinion helped to bring about the gradual abolition of the culture system and its replacement by a free labour system. A new 'ethical policy' movement emerged, powered by the conviction that the interests of the peoples of the colonies should take precedence over those of the Netherlands.
The Netherlands also possessed colonies in the western hemisphere. These consisted of Suriname and six islands in the Antilles. The former was profitable because of its plantations but declined following the abolition of the slave trade by Britain and America in 1807 en 1808 respectively. It was 1814 before the Netherlands followed suit and as late as 1863 before it finally abolished the actual institution of slavery.
1879 - The 'school conflict'
Between 1840 and 1890 the Netherlands was transformed from a country of agricultural workers and artisans into an industrialised society. The rail network expanded rapidly and canals were constructed linking Amsterdam and Rotterdam with the sea. Large-scale mechanisation replaced traditional manual methods of production. The living and working conditions of factory workers were extremely poor. Employees had few if any rights and child labour was taken for granted. Gradually, however, mounting social criticism encouraged workers to unite to achieve better conditions of employment.
Religious issues also played a major role in the political life of the 19th century. Among the provisions of the 1848 constitution were the freedom of association and assembly and the separation of church and state. This gave Dutch Catholics the chance to re-establish the structure of their church in the Netherlands, which had been lost in the Eighty Years' War when the Netherlands had been designated an area of missionary endeavour by Rome. Now that the Pope was able to restore the episcopal hierarchy, he almost immediately appointed five new bishops. The Protestants, united in the April movement, were vehemently opposed. Fearing Catholic domination and the return of the inquisition, they petitioned the king to prevent the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy. His discreetly worded sympathy with their views was sufficient to trigger the resignation of the liberal head of government, Thorbecke. This led to the dissolution of parliament and a new government submitted fresh legislative proposals which gained wider acceptance.
The fight for the right to subsidised education in specifically Catholic and Protestant as well as non-denominational schools helped to reconcile the two churches. The idea was opposed by the liberals, who dominated the Dutch political scene during much of this period. They insisted that state-subsidised education must be religiously neutral. In 1878 the Elementary Education Act obtained royal assent despite a petition against it signed by 300,000 people. The Act's failure to provide for subsidised denominational education prompted Protestants and Catholics to join forces. So it was the battle for the hearts and minds of the nation's children that generated the first coalitions of like-minded parliamentarians.
Prior to 1878, parliamentarians had not formed political parties. In that year, however, the Anti-Revolutionary Party was established on the basis of a tightly worded manifesto drafted by Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was a true Calvinist: a man who believed in the complete sovereignty of the deity and the duty of government and the people to recognise that government existed in the service of God. The party was called 'anti-revolutionary' because it was diametrically opposed to the principles of the French revolution, which had rejected this Christian view of the world. In the same year, the Social Democratic Association was set up, inspired principally by the doctrines of Karl Marx. In response to these developments, the Catholics formed their own religiously based electoral associations. In 1881 Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis founded the Social Democratic Union, concerned chiefly with the conditions of the workers. His weekly paper Recht voor Allen (Right for All) advocated a radical redistribution of property. This segregation of the political parties along socialist, liberal and religious lines (commonly known as 'verzuiling' or 'pillarisation') was to dominate Dutch politics for many decades thereafter.
1890 - The regency of Queen Emma
Economic developments in the Netherlands brought into being a large industrial working class, which comprised some 70 per cent of the working population between 1870 and 1900. The Netherlands benefited from the rapid industrialisation of the German Ruhr: a major factor in the expansion of Rotterdam to become the leading port in Europe. The new industrial working class had little political influence and endured poor living conditions. Poverty was increasingly apparent, notably in the fast growing towns. Poor relief was provided by church and voluntary organisations, but poverty was increasingly being perceived as a social and political problem rather than the result of individual failure or improvidence. In Amsterdam, the 'Eel Revolt' was violently suppressed by the army, but it was clear that revolution was in the air. This forced the government to concede to demands for wider suffrage and in 1887 a reform of the constitution gave the vote to all men who satisfied the criteria of 'social standing and suitability'. In the general election of 1888, an electorate numbering around 300,000 (200,000 more than previously) voted a right-wing majority into power. However, Domela Niewenhuis was also returned as the first socialist member of parliament and a ban on child labour followed soon afterwards, together with provisions regulating the labour of young people and women.
King William III died in 1890, leaving his wife Emma to act as regent until their only child, Wilhelmina, reached the age of majority. Known as the Queen Mother, Emma did much during her regency to restore the good name of the House of Orange. This had been discredited by the behaviour of William III, who had ignored the hardships suffered by his subjects while flouting public morality by more or less openly maintaining a number of mistresses and living the life of a landed aristocrat and fervent huntsman on his estates at Het Loo.
Queen Emma restored the popularity of the House of Orange among the ordinary folk by taking her daughter Wilhelmina to visit places all over the country. She also used Wilhelmina's birthday as an excuse to organise popular celebrations ('Queen's Day', which is still marked throughout the Netherlands by mass public displays of traditional merrymaking and loyalty to the crown.
On 6 September 1898, at the age of eighteen, Wilhelmina was proclaimed queen in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam.
In 1901 she married Duke Hendrik van Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who became the father of Princess Juliana. Wilhelmina's fifty-year reign saw momentous changes in the Netherlands but she is remembered with particular affection and respect for her great courage and resolution during the Second World War.
1894 - Foundation of the SDAP
Expectations ran high when Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), who had always advocated social legislation, became Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior in 1901. When the expected measures failed to materialise, a railway strike was called in 1903. It rapidly spread to other sectors of industry. Harsh measures drove the strikers back to work and a law was passed prohibiting industrial action by public sector employees. Even so, these events hastened the enactment of social legislation. However, compliance was far from complete.
Abraham Kuyper, founder and political leader of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, was the Netherlands' first Prime Minister in the modern sense. As a clergyman, he had long been active in religious matters and had become the spokesman for the ordinary members of the Calvinist congregations. He wanted to preserve the orthodox doctrines of Reformed Protestantism, but to modify them in the light of changes in society. He advocated a 'free church' with autonomous congregations and without a synod dominated by the free-thinking bourgeoisie. In 1886, these ideas produced a schism within the Dutch Reformed Church.
At the other end of the political spectrum was another clergyman: Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, founder of the first socialist party in the Netherlands, the Social Democratic Union. Its ideology was revolutionary, anti-clerical and anti-royalist. Domela Nieuwenhuis opposed all forms of parliamentarian rule as a matter of principle. He loathed politics and tactical compromises to such an extent that he was able to persuade the Union not to participate in the general election of 1893. This led in 1894 to the establishment of a new Marxist political party, the Social Democratic Labour Party, headed by Pieter Jelles Troelstra, who was to remain its parliamentary leader right through to 1925.
The period between 1870 and 1920 was marked not only by political change but also by a blossoming of the arts and sciences. In the visual arts, a 'Hague School' of painters emerged, made up of artists like Jozef Israëls, J.H. Weissenbruch, Jacob and Willem Maris and Anton Mauve, all of whom were Impressionists carrying on the tradition of the great 17th-century landscape painters. At the same time, Vincent van Gogh - one of the most famous Dutch painters of all time - was developing his own intensely personal style. The Potato Eaters, a masterly early work, reflects his deep concern with contemporary social issues, whereas his later Expressionist paintings depict landscapes and scenes from everyday life. In literature, a group of young poets concerned with 'Art for art's sake' and the unity of form and content formed the Eighties Movement and published their poems in a periodical called De nieuwe Gids (The New Guide). Prominent among them were Willem Kloos, Albert Verwey and Jacques Perk, with Herman Gorter, Henriëtte Roland Holst and Frederik van Eeden joining later.
In the sciences, the physicists Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, Pieter Zeeman and Heike Kamerlingh Onnes all won Nobel prizes (the first two in 1902 and the third in 1913) and restored the Netherlands to the leading position it had once enjoyed in the field. They were assisted in this respect by the meteorologist C.H.D. Buys Ballot and biologist Hugo de Vries. Meanwhile, jurist Tobias Asser was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1911 and architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934) became famous for his new stock market building in Amsterdam, the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and a new residential area on the south side of Amsterdam.
1917 - The Pacification
Turn-of-the-century Dutch foreign policy was directed at protecting the colonies and establishing a leading position in international trade and finance. In European power politics, the country adopted a neutral stance. It was anyway too small to exercise much influence. In 1871 the balance of power in Europe shifted dramatically when the German states united to form the German empire, allied to the Austro-Hungarian empire and Italy. The other European power bloc consisted of Britain, France and Russia, which had united in opposition to the growing economic might of Germany. The two blocs invested vast sums in the accumulation of huge arsenals of the most up-to-date weapons. Meanwhile, the Netherlands minded its own business and observed a policy of strict neutrality, as did Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
Economically, the Netherlands was prospering. In the cities, department stores were being built to sell large ranges of consumer goods. Horse-drawn trams had given way to electric ones, the rubber-tyred bicycle had been introduced, the first few Dutch-built Spyker automobiles were appearing on the roads and in Haarlem Anthony Fokker constructed his first aircraft.
Dutch workers were beginning to organise themselves into unions and the emancipation of women was beginning to be an important issue. The first activist for women's rights and the first woman to enrol at a university on leaving secondary school was Aletta Jacobs (1854-1929). At that time, women were not expected to practise a profession and it was very rare for them to enter higher education. Aletta Jacobs fought principally for women's suffrage and social reform. As a general medical practitioner in Amsterdam, she became extremely concerned about the conditions of working class women's lives and tried to improve their lot by providing free lectures and baby clinics.
The liberal politician P.W.A. Cort van der Linden (1846-1925), prime minister from 1913 to 1918, attempted to reconcile the left and right on the issue of subsidies for denominational schools and universal suffrage. These problems had dominated Dutch politics for many years but were now finally resolved by the 'Pacification' of 1917. The socialists and radical liberals got their way as regards the introduction of universal male suffrage and the religious parties as regards the equal funding of denominational and non-denominational schools. This put an end to the festering 'school conflict'.
On 28 June 1914, the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serb nationalist called Gavrilo Princip. This sparked a series of accusations and ultimatums between the two opposing power blocs and the long-expected outbreak of hostilities followed in August that year, after Germany invaded neutral Belgium, prompting Britain to declare war on Germany.
The parliament in the Netherlands comprises a House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) and a Senate (Eerste Kamer). The House comprises 150 members, the Senate 75. Together they are called the States General. This bicameral system was introduced in 1815.
However, the history goes back much further, to the period of the Republic of the United Provinces (1588-1795). The States General at that time were the body in which the diverse independent provinces were represented. The States (or the provincial governments) appointed the representatives to the States General. Although the provinces relinquished some powers to the States General in this fashion, they largely remained selfgoverning.
The arrival of the French revolution in 1795 brought an end to the Republic. A national assembly was formed based on the French model. This was the first elected representative assembly in the Netherlands. The members of the National Assembly no longer represented the provinces, but the country as a whole. But shortly after, the Netherlands became a kingdom controlled by Napoleon, with his brother Lodewijk as a King. After the defeat of Napoleon, the European powers decided at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to embark on a major reconfiguration of European national boundaries. As a result, the northern Netherlands and the southern Netherlands, which is currently Belgium, were again united after more than two centuries to form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The King came from the aristocratic family of Orange-Nassau, the same family from which the stadholders (viceroys) had come during the Republic.
At the urging of the southern Netherlands, the new States General became a bicameral assembly. There was no question of a representative democracy. Electors and elected alike belonged to a select and elite company. Men were the sole members of this elite. To be enfranchised they had to comply with all kinds of conditions, one of which was payment of a minimum amount in taxes that served as an automatic indicator of their wealth.
Amendments to the constitution
Between 1814 and 1848 the members of the Senate were appointed by the King for life. They were selected from the upper echelons of society. For the King, the Senate was an instrument on which he could rely if the House of Representatives had passed legislation that was disagreeable to him. During this period there were various amendments to the constitution. The revision in 1840 incorporated the fact that Belgium had dissociated itself from the kingdom.
In 1848 the most radical amendment to the constitution in the Netherlands' history was introduced at the instigation of the lawyer and statesman Thorbecke (1798-1872). The main repercussion of this amendment was that responsibility for government policy came to rest with the ministers. The King became 'inviolable'. In addition, the House of Representatives acquired a series of important rights which led to a considerable increase in its controlling power: the right of amendment, the right of interpellation, the right to institute an inquiry, and the right to approve the budget. These rights created the basis for parliamentary democracy as we know it in the Netherlands.
Since 1848 the Netherlands' system of government has been defined as a constitutional monarchy, in which the power of the executive is limited by the constitution and in which the government is responsible to an elected parliament. The Dutch had to wait more than seventy years for universal suffrage. Both men and women have had the vote since 1919, in local, provincial and general elections. Nowadays every citizen aged eighteen and over can vote and can be elected as a representative. Elections for the House of Representatives usually take place every four years. The members are directly elected by the people. Members of the Senate are indirectly elected by the Provincial Councils (that is to say by the members of the twelve provincial parliaments).
What is ministerial responsibility?
The Queen and the ministers together make up the Government. Under the Constitution, which dates from 1848, the ministers and not the monarch are responsible for affairs of government. No legislation can come about without a minister being accountable for it to Parliament. Acts of Parliament and Royal Decrees, the latter not requiring the approval of Parliament, are always signed by the Queen, who thereby gives them the royal assent, and countersigned by a minister who accepts full constitutional responsibility for them. In this way, the Queen exercises her authority as head of state, and the minister his constitutional responsibility.
What is the difference between the Royal Family and the Royal House?
A distinction is made in the Netherlands between the Royal Family and the Royal House. Not all members of the Royal Family are also members of the Royal House. Under the Membership of the Royal House Act (2002), the members of the Royal House are the monarch, the former monarch (on abdication) and the monarch’s siblings and grandparents/children. Until 2002, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, and great-grandparents/children were also members of the Royal House. Under the 2002 Act, they will keep their membership until Prince Willem-Alexander succeeds to the throne. The husbands and wives of the members of the Royal House are also members. The monarch is the head of the Royal House.
The present Royal House consists of Queen Beatrix, her sons Prince Willem-Alexander and Constantijn, their wives and children, the Queen’s younger sister Princess Margriet, her husband Pieter van Vollenhoven, and two of their sons and daughters-in-law.
Apart from the members of the Royal House, the Royal Family also includes Prince Friso and Princess Mabel, Prince Pieter-Christiaan and Princess Anita, Prince Floris and Princess Aimée, Princesses Irene and Christina, and their children and son and daughters-in-law.
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