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The sudden demise of William II was the signal for a reaction against the Orange party and policy. The Great Assembly of 1651 assured the triumph of the principles of the “States party,” which inherited the tradition of Oldenbameveldt, and the domination in the Union of the Province of Holland. It was really called together to decide between two opposing systems of government; and the critical conjuncture of affairs, which left the Orangists without a leader, made the decision a foregone conclusion. Its effect was to emphasise the sovereignty of the States of the several Provinces at the expense of that of the States General of the Union. By the thoroughgoing advocates of provincial autonomy it was indeed denied that the States General possessed any of the attributes of sovereignty at all. The Federal Assembly represented the Republic in the eyes of the outside world; but it had no authority save what was delegated to it by the seven sovereign Provinces acting in accord. It could not coerce the Provincial States or take action in opposition to their wishes. Such a theory, had it been pushed to its extreme limits, would have proved from the first unworkable. It had been corrected in practice by the existence in the United Netherlands of two strong, though antagonistic, influences. The one was the extensive executive powers vested in successive Princes of Orange. By their distinguished abilities, no less than by virtue of the offices they filled, the Stadholders William I, Maurice, Frederick Henry, and William II, exercised an authority which was strong enough at critical moments to override opposition. They were in reality, what they were often styled, “eminent heads” of the State. The other influence was that of the predominant Province of Holland, which bore more than half of the entire financial burden of the Union, and provided the greater part of its indispensable fleet. The States of Holland jealously and vigilantly asserted their independence and privileges, and their control of the purse gave them an almost irresistible weight in the determination of the policy of the Republic. Twice, in 1618 and 1650, had it been necessary to settle the question of supremacy between Holland and the Generality by the sword. But the imprisonment of Jacob de Witt and his five companions in the Castle of Loevestein by William II only made their party, henceforth known as the Loevestein faction, the more determined to seize the opportunity offered by the young Stadholder’s untimely death to ensure the triumph of their principles; and they succeeded.

Before the end of the year, Jacob de Witt had been restored to his old place in the Town Council, and his second son John appointed Pensionary, of Dort (December 21, 1650). John de Witt was at this time 25 years of age, having been bom on September 24, 1625. His brother Comelis, two years his senior, was already a sheriff in the Government of his native place. Both had been educated at Leyden and had travelled in France and England together. John settled down in 1647 to practise as an advocate at the Hague; but with his appointment as Pensionary a political career was opened to him. This post carried with it a seat in the Provincial States and in the Great Assembly, where, in virtue of his ofBce, he was the spokesman of the town deputation. He soon distinguished himself by his industry and capacity for affairs. In the deliberations of the Great Assembly he took an active part; but it was in the disputes and negotiations with England that his political and diplomatic talents were first exhibited.

The relations between the English and Dutch Republics had, ever since the murder at the Hague of the Parliamentary envoy, Doreslaer, in 1649, been strained. There were many causes for embitterment between two maritime nations, whose commercial interests clashed in almost every part of the world. The rights of fishing, the so-called massacre of Amboina, the battle of the Downs, the striking of the Dutch flag in the Narrow Seas, the disputes between the two East India Companies—all these were sores that rankled. The Civil War had for a number of years prevented the English from pressing their grievances; but, when Cromwell found himself in possession of the Government, he was no longer willing to acquiesce in the Dutch monopoly of the carrying trade in English harbours or to yield one jot of English pretensions to the dominion of the seas. Cromwell’s first ideas were peaceful but utopian. Visions of the formation of a great Protestant Coalition floated before his mind; and he wished, if possible, to get rid of the rivalry between the two neighbouring Republics, by bringing about a close alliance between them, which should differ little from political union. Accordingly, in March, 1651, a stately embassy, at the head of which were Oliver St John and Walter Strickland, was sent over to the Hague to carry these ideas into effect by inducing the States General to consent to an intimate and strict alliance and to the establishment of a great Common Council, to sit in London. Such proposals were seen by the Dutch to imply the loss of their independence and the practical absorption of the smaller State in the larger. Received with coldness by the States party, with undisguised and open hostility by the Orangists and the mass of the population, the English mission was a failure. The irritation was great in England, and it speedily showed itself in vigorous action. On October 9,1651, the celebrated Navigation Act was passed, which forbade all foreign bottoms to import into the country any merchandise except the products of the soil or of the industry of their own country. By this Act a deadly blow was dealt at the carrying trade of the Dutch, which was the main source of their prosperity. It was essential at this critical juncture that the conduct of foreign affairs should be in capable hands; and in a stadholderless Republic the Grand Pensionary (Raad-Pensionaris) of Holland, by his responsible position and the varied character of his functions both in the Provincial States and in the States General, was the man who by common consent exercised the greatest weight in public, and especially in foreign, affairs. The position so long filled by Oldenbameveldt was now open to a statesman of the same mould as the great advocate, holding a similar office and professing the same principles. In John de Witt Oldenbarneveldt was to find a fitting and competent successor. When the Great Assembly met, Jacob Cats, a worthy man and a popular poet, was Grand Pensionary; but he was no politician. At the closing of the Assembly Cats resigned his office, and was succeeded by the aged Adrian Pauw.

In the spring of 1652 a special embassy had been despatched to Westminster, consisting at first of three members, Cats, Schaep, and van der Perre, who were afterwards joined by Pauw himself. The most strenuous efforts were made to induce the English Government to withdraw or modify the obnoxious Act of Navigation, and to open negotiations on the basis of the Treaty of Commerce of 1495 known as the “Great Intercourse”—but to no purpose. All the old grievances of the English against the Netherlanders were raked up, and reparation demanded. More than this, the States were required to recognise unconditionally the English claim to the dominion of the sea, and to agree that, whenever Dutch and English vessels should meet in “English waters,” the Dutchmen should strike sail and flag and in certain cases fire salutes. The issuing of letters of marque by the English Government and the seizure of seventy Dutch merchantmen widened still further a breach which diplomacy was unable to close. Much against their will, the Netherlanders found themselves forced to prepare for war (March, 1652); and it finally broke out after an accidental encounter between Tromp and Blake over the striking of the flag (May 29). An account has been given in a previous volume of the hard-fought struggle between the two rival Maritime Powers, which was signalised in the course of fifteen months by twelve great sea-fights and a number of smaller engagements. It was in the midst of this terrible War that the Pensionary of Dort was called to the direction of affairs. During the absence of Adrian Pauw in England he had acted as deputy in his place; and after the death of that statesman he was (March, 1653) first appointed provisionally to fill his office, then definitively elected (July 30). Thus becoming Grand Pensionary at a moment of sore difficulty and anxiety, he speedily displayed a firmness and clear-sightedness which more than justified the selection of so young a man to a position of so great responsibility. The unpreparedness of the Dutch navy for the conflict, and its inferiority in the size and equipment of its ships, had caused the fortunes of war to turn decisively to the side of the English. Both fleets had fought with heroic courage, victory alternating for each of them with defeat, and the admirals on both sides were men of exceptional merit. The death of Tromp, however, in battle (August 10, 1653) had caused consternation in the Netherlands, and de Witt on entering upon his office found himself confronted with an almost desperate situation. The great fisheries industry had ceased, business and commerce were at a standstill. There was a deficiency in the supply of com and of all the imported necessaries of life; beggary stared thousands in the face; and, worst of all, there was no money in the treasury, nor any source from which to obtain it. The mass of the population, always Orangist in sentiment, attributed all their misfortunes to the change of Government, and in many places tumults arose, which assumed serious proportions.

The First English War.

This condition of things made the States party, who from the beginning had been averse from the War, ready to consider any reasonable terms of peace; and they found in the Grand Pensionary a zealous and whole-hearted leader. Meanwhile Cromwell, with the army behind him, had forcibly dissolved the Long Parliament and become practically master of the State. He had never viewed the outbreak of war with favour, for it had put a summary stop to his schemes for a close and intimate union between the two Republics. No sooner therefore had he obtained dictatorial powers than he lent a ready ear to peaceful proposals. Many ineffectual attempts had already been made to open negotiations, but had failed. Cromwell had in February, 1653, sent over a certain Colonel Dolman, formerly in the States’ service, to make known privately his conciliatory disposition towards the United Provinces; and, acting under the influence of de Witt, the States of Holland had taken upon themselves to address certain proposals to the Parliament in a letter sent without the assent of the States General. The Parliament, however, not only refused to modify the terms proposed before the War, but printed and published the letter with the title of the “Humble Supplication of the States of Holland.” Such a course of action was intentionally offensive, and roused general indignation in the Netherlands. The States of Holland were blamed for the initiative they had taken without the knowledge of the other Provinces, and loud outcries were raised by the Orange party. It required all the persuasive powers of de Witt to prevent the States General from replying to the Parliament in the same arrogant tone in which they had been addressed. Owing, however, to his arguments and efforts, moderate counsels prevailed, and the States General declared themselves ready to appoint plenipotentiaries to discuss the conditions of a treaty of peace.

De Witt would gladly have entrusted the mission to a single plenipotentiary whom he could thoroughly trust; but the jealousy of the other Provinces would not permit the negotiations to be placed entirely in the hands of Hollanders. It was agreed therefore to send four envoys, two from Holland—Hieronymus van Bevemingh, Burgomaster of Gouda, and William Nieuwpoort, Pensionary of Schiedam—with whpm were associated representatives of the two other maritime Provinces, the Zeelander, Paulus van der Perre, Pensionary of Middelburg, and Allard Pieter Jongestal, President of the Court of Justice in Friesland. Bevemingh and Nieuwpoort were both good friends of de Witt, and to the former of them he gave his entire confidence. The reception accorded by the Council of State in England was not very encouraging. The old demands were insisted upon, nothing less than political union—“una gens, una respublica ”—in other words, the annexation of the United Provinces by the English Republic. There was to be one State under a common Government, with the same laws, rights, possessions and interests. Such proposals were absolutely unacceptable. A continuance of the War appeared a lesser evil than loss of independence. All hopes of accommodation were not, however, abandoned. Van Bevemingh and van der Perre were instructed to remain in London and continue the negotiations, while the other two envoys returned home to confer with their principals. For some months but little change took place in the situation. The War went on; but the interchange of views as to possible conditions of peace was not stopped. Nieuwpoort and Jongestal returned to England in November; and in December Cromwell became Lord Protector, and acquired a free hand. He at once assured the Dutch ambassadors that he was sincerely anxious to bring to an end a war which had from the outset grieved him. It was difficult, in the midst of his protestations, to discover what were the Protector’s actual aims. Many conferences took place; and Cromwell, though still proclaiming his wish to bring about a close alliance, no longer made demands involving the sacrifice of Dutch independence. The fear that an Orange restoration in the Netherlands might resuscitate the Stewart cause and possibly lead to attempts to bring about a royalist restoration in England haunted his mind. At last he formulated his peace proposals to the plenipotentiaries in 27 articles. In these he made no mention of the union of the two Republics. The States General were to pay an annual sum for the right of fishing upon the English coasts, to maintain only a limited number of ships, to strike the flag in the English seas, and to recognise the right of search. But, in addition to these sufficiently severe conditions, the States General were by Article 12 required to bind themselves never to permit the Prince of Orange or any of his race to obtain any of the civil or military dignities and powers which had been held by his ancestors.

Great was the disappointment of de Witt on learning that the Protector thus put forward a demand, which he knew would never be conceded by the States General. The situation was “desperate,” and the envoys asked for their passports. In a speech to the States General the Grand Pensionary urged the necessity for taking the strongest measures for carrying on the War with vigour. The fleet must be strengthened regardless of cost, and alliances sought with foreign Powers, two of which, France and Denmark, had already shown an inclination to take sides with the Dutch; indeed, Denmark had begun to negotiate for a treaty and had provoked the hostility of England by the closing of the Sound to English commerce and by the seizure of English ships. This determined attitude had its effect upon Cromwell. He showed a willingness to modify the terms; but he insisted on the exclusion of the House of Orange from the stadholdership and captain-generalship; and, on account of the hostile action of Denmark, he refused to allow her to be included in the Treaty of Peace. Just, however, as the Dutch plenipotentiaries were on the point of embarking at Gravesend on their return, a messenger from Cromwell arrived with the information that the Protector gave way so far as regarded Denmark, and that he would be content with a secret article in the matter of the exclusion. All this time confidential correspondence was constantly passing between the Grand Pensionary and van Bevemingh, and de Witt lost no time in dealing with the new situation. Van Bevemingh was instructed to inform Cromwell that there was not the least chance of securing the assent of the States General to such a secret article. In a private interview with van Bevemingh Cromwell now gave the plenipotentiary to understand that, if the Province of Holland would guarantee the exclusion of the Prince of Orange from the stadholdership and the post of Captain-General, he would accept it. De Witt, although he saw clearly all the immense difficulties that stood in the way of obtaining such a guarantee, set to work to accomplish the task. The Grand Pensionary in the Hague and van Bevemingh in London in the deepest secrecy conducted clandestine negotiations with Cromwell, while openly de Witt was inducing the States General, and with success, to agree to and ratify the treaty, out of which the article concerning the exclusion of the House of Orange had been struck. On April 22 it was signed and sent over to England. The only reference to the burning question was contained in Article 32, the so-called temperament clause, by which the States General and the States severally undertook that every Stadholder, Captain-General or commander of military or naval forces was to be required to take an oath to observe the treaty.

Cromwell and de Witt.—Diplomatic difficulties. [1654

Meanwhile a very delicate and dangerous diplomatic game was being played—that of seeking to obtain in absolute secrecy the consent of the States of Holland to the undisclosed Act of Seclusion. Quite unexpectedly, and without agenda having been prepared, the States were summoned to meet on April 28. All the members were first bound by oath to secrecy; and hereupon the Grand Pensionary read to them an official letter from van Bevemingh and Nieuwpoort stating the requirement of Cromwell. Surprised and perplexed, the deputies asked for time to consult their principals before coming to a decision. It was agreed, however, in order to avoid delay and publicity, that only the regent Burgomasters should be informed of the contents of the envoys’ despatch, once more under oath of secrecy, and that the States should meet again in three days’ time. On May 1 the Assembly met, when the Pensionary read another despatch which he had just received from London, notifying Cromwell’s demand that the Act should be handed over to him within a couple of days of the ratification of the treaty—or he would not consider it binding upon him. After stormy discussion, under the influence of Cromwell’s threat and de Witt’s persuasive arguments, a majority, consisting of the nobles and thirteen towns, voted for the signing of the “Act of Seclusion.” Five towns, Haarlem, Leyden, Alkmaar, Edam and Enkhuizen, however, obstinately refused their assent. Despite the protest of the minority, de Witt declared the Act to be passed; and it was sent on the following day to the two envoys in London, with instructions, however, not to deliver it unless it were absolutely necessary.

Through the treachery of a clerk the secret was betrayed to William Frederick, Stadholder of Friesland; and, as the rumour spread throughout the country, a loud and threatening outcry arose against the States of Holland and the Grand Pensionary. Not only was the entire Orange party up in arms, but the other Provinces bitterly resented the action taken by the Hollanders as a breach of the Union. In the States General de Witt endeavoured to meet the attacks upon him by evasive replies, asserting in general terms that the States, his masters, had done nothing that was illegal or outside their powers. The States, however, themselves were not as courageous as their Pensionary and shrank before the storm which they had raised, thanking their envoys for not having handed in the Act to the English Government. Some five weeks passed, but at length the patience of the States General was exhausted; and on June 6 it was resolved that orders be despatched to the envoys to send all the secret instructions they had received from the States of Holland to the States General, together with a copy of the Act of Seclusion. But de Witt’s extraordinary skill in political strategy and his talent for diplomatic intrigue shone out the more brilliantly, the more hopeless the embarrassments from which he had to extricate himself. At the eleventh hour he determined to make one last effort to gain his end. Acting on his advice, the States General gave instructions that the despatch to the envoys should be written in cipher, not in the ordinary form. With the despatch, however, he enclosed a letter to van Bevemingh and Nieuwpoort, informing them that the States of Holland assented to the request of the States General, and asking them to send the copy of the Act, if it were still in their possession. The plan succeeded. While the despatch of the States General was being painfully deciphered, van Bevemingh read de Witt’s letter, at once grasped its meaning, demanded an interview with the Protector, and delivered the Act of Seclusion into his hands. When the deciphering was completed, it was already too late to carry out the instructions of the States General.

Great ability of de Witt The "Deduction".[1650-5

Throughout the whole course of this crooked business there can be no two opinions as to the ability displayed by the Grand Pensionary. His correspondence, moreover, proves his honesty of purpose. He felt peace to be absolutely necessary for the welfare of the Republic, so long as its conditions were not humiliating or threatened the independence of the State. Bitterly hostile as he was to the House of Orange, there are no grounds for the accusation that the Act of Seclusion was desired by him, still less that it was due to his instigation. Such a course of chicanery and deception is, however, not to be defended either by its motives or its results; and, as a matter of fact, it brought unpopularity upon de Witt and his party and was never forgotten or forgiven by the great majority of the people of the Netherlands, who cherished the memory of the great deeds of the House of Orange. Nothing, could have more effectually enlisted the sympathy and affection of the populace for the young Prince than the thought that he had been in an under­hand way defrauded of his rights at the bidding of a foreign ruler.

Peace once concluded, commerce revived and with returning prosperity men’s spirits grew calmer, and the angry manifestations against the Act of Seclusion gradually died down. Even the two Princesses of Orange were appeased by the personal explanations and marked courtesy of de Witt, and thought it better not to run any risk of doing injury to the interests of William by adopting an attitude of irreconcilable hostility. The States of Holland admitted that their conduct required exculpation; and the Grand Pensionary drew up a laboured defence of their action in the matter of the Act of Seclusion in a lengthy document known as the “ Deduction of the States of Holland.” This state-paper was far indeed from convincing the opponents of de Witt’s policy, notwithstanding the undoubted skill and acumen which it displayed; but those opponents were far too divided amongst themselves to be able to concentrate their efforts against the constantly increasing power and influence of the Grand Pensionary. The Princess Dowager and the Princess Royal were at enmity with one another and with Count William Frederick, and their family bickerings and private ambitions prevented the supporters of the House of Orange from being able to pursue any common policy. Moreover, the marriage of de Witt in February, 1655, with Wendela Bicker greatly strengthened his position. Two of Wendela’s uncles had been the leaders of Amsterdam’s opposition to William II in 1650 and had been declared incapable of henceforth holding any municipal office. Through this marriage de Witt became connected with several of the principal members of the burgher oligarchy of the great commercial city thus supplementing the powerful family influence he already possessed in the south of Holland. The Grand Pensionary, indeed, was soon surrounded by a group of relatives and intimate friends, holding important official posts in public or local administration. His brother Comelis was appointed Ruwaard (Governor) of Putten in 1654; his father was made a member of the Chamber of Finance in 1657; his cousins van Slingelandt and Vivien were in succession Pensionaries of Dort; his wife’s uncles, Cornelis Bicker and Comelis de Graeff, were all-powerful in Amsterdam. The most influential functionary of the States General, the Griffier (Secretary), Nicolas Ruysch, de Witt’s predecessor as Pensionary of Dort, was his devoted adherent; so were the distinguished diplomatists van Bevemingh, van Beuningen and Nieuwpoort. Successive vacancies in high commands in the army and navy and in the presidencies of the Courts of Justice were filled with supporters of the anti-Stadholder party; so that, in the absence of any serious rival to his authority, the Grand Pensionary found himself able, while nominally only a Minister in the service of the Provincial States of Holland, to gather into his hands the supreme direction alike of the foreign and domestic affairs of the State. Not even Oldenbameveldt during the youth of Maurice had possessed so wide and far-reaching an authority.

One of the great difficulties with which Holland had to contend was that of finance. The Province had borne the greater part of the burden of the War of Independence; and although, with a view to lightening its weight, the rate of interest had in 1640 been reduced from 6,1/4 to 5 per cent., the debt had kept growing, and at the close of the English War amounted to 158,000,000 florins, the annual charge upon which reached nearly 7,000,000 florins. De Witt began with retrenching expenditure, wherever it could be done with safety, by a careful examination into all superfluous and wasteful outgoings, and a better and more vigilant administration of the public revenues. Finding it impossible, however, to make the charges balance the receipts, and faced by, an annual deficit, the Grand Pensionary resolved upon the bold step of a further reduction of interest. It was with difficulty that he persuaded the States of Holland to agree to his proposal, that the rate of interest should be reduced from 5 to 4 per cent. Such a step could not be taken without a serious loss of income to the numerous holders of public securities. By establishing a sinking fund, however, for the paying off of the entire debt in 41 years, he succeeded in carrying out his proposal, This achieved, he was able to induce the States General to follow the example of the Province, and to reduce the interest on the federal debt likewise to 4 per cent.

Wars with Portugal and Sweden. [1654-7

No one saw more clearly than de Witt that the foremost interest of a trading and colonising country like the United Provinces was peace, and to this end all his efforts in the conduct of foreign affairs were directed. Unfortunately his lot was cast in troubled and anxious times. In the relations with England, in spite of the goodwill of the respective Governments, the trade rivalry caused continual controversies to arise. In Nieuwpoort, however, the States had an envoy in whom the Grand Pensionary reposed the utmost confidence, and who succeeded in ingratiating himself both with Cromwell and his Secretary of State, Thurloe. Difficulties arose between the two countries with regard to Portugal, alid still more acutely in the Baltic. The death of Cromwell in 1658 alone prevented active English intervention in the war with Portugal caused by the loss of Brazil, where the Portuguese rebels against Diitch rule in Pernambuco had had at first the secret and afterwards the open support of the mother country. The last remnant of the authority of the Dutch West India Company had disappeared so long ago as 1654 with the loss of Reciff, and the English War had prevented any active steps being taken to reassert it. There was no indlination in the Netherlands to send any expedition across the Atlantic to recover the lost colony; but it was felt that there was a claim against Portugal for compensation, and de Witt in 1657 determined to enforce it. War was declared against Portugal; and the conquest of Ceylon and Macassar followed. In Europe the hostilities, which dragged on for some years, were confined to naval demonstrations on the Portuguese coast. The complications in the north were much more serious.

In Sweden, on the abdication in 1654 of Christina the warlike and ambitious Charles Gustavus ascended the throne. As has been already seen, he aimed at nothing short of the conversion by force of arms of the Baltic into a Swedish lake. But the interests of the United Provinces in the Baltic trade were enormous. It was from the Baltic that their supplies of com were brought. Aided by Frederick William of Brandenburg, Chairies Gustavus entered upon a career of victory. Poland was overrun, and the allied armies (1656) laid siege to Danzig, the emporium of the wheat trade. Under pressure from the merchants of Amsterdam de Witt determined on an energetic policy. It was proposed by the States of Holland, and agreed to by the States General, that a naval demonstration Should be made to save the beleaguered town and preserve the balance of power in the Baltic. A fleet of forty-two ships accordingly set sail under Obdam de Wassenaair, which raised the blockade of Danzig, and by an understanding With the Poles placed a garrison in the town. This act of vigour brought the King of Sweden to reason. At a conference at Elbing (September, 1656) the former treaty of friendship between the two Powers was renewed, and Danzig was declared a neutral port. This check to Sweden was, however, to be the precursor of fresh strife. Hostilities again broke out. Brandenburg changed sides, and the Swedes Were rapidly driven out of Poland. Their defeat encouraged Frederick III of Denmark to declare war against his northern neighbours, in spite of the counsel and remonstrances of the States. A treaty of defensive alliance had recently been concluded between the United Provinces and Denmark; and de Witt therefore regarded with alarm this bold assault of the weaker Upon the stronger Scandinavian Power. It was too late. Charles Gustavus attacked and utterly defeated the Danes, and was able to dictate terms of peace at Roeskilde (March, 1658), where Frederick agreed to close the Sound to all foreign fleets. But when, on the plea that the Treaty of Roeskilde had not been carried out by the Danes, Charles Gustavus laid siege to Copenhagen, de Witt, who had hitherto in his desire to avoid the risks of war confined himself to diplomatic pressure, now felt that, unless the absolute dominion of the Baltic was to be given up to the Swedish King, instant action must be taken. It was a dangerous situation, for the Republic was at war with Portugal and on far from friendly relations with either France or England. But the Baltic question was vital, and de Witt did not hesitate. In the beginning of October, Admiral Obdam de Wassenaar sailed for Copenhagen, which was obstinately defended, at the head of a fleet of thirty-five vessels carrying 4000 troops. His orders were to destroy the Swedish fleet and to raise the siege of Copenhagen. A terrific battle took place at the entrance into the Baltic. The Swedish fleet of forty- five vessels, under the command of Wrangel, made a valiant defence against the attack of the Netherlanders. The two Dutch Vice-Admirals, Witte de With and Pieter Floriszoon, were both killed; Obdam himself was nearly taken prisoner; but the Swedes suffered heavy loss and took refuge in 'the harbour of ’Landskrona. Copenhagen was saved from capture. The siege, nevertheless, went on; and, fearing the intervention of France and England, de Witt prudently entered into negotiations with those two Powers, and a convention was signed by which the three States agreed to act together as mediators between the Kings of Sweden and Denmark, and, if necessary, compel them to make peace. For months the negotiations continued without an agreement being reached. Both Kings were obstinate, but more especially Charles Gustavus, who refused to accept the terms proposed by the mediators, and still threatened 'Copenhagen on the land side with a strong force. In these circumstances de Ruyter, who was now in command of the Dutch fleet, was ordered to expd the Swedes from the island of Fyen. On November 24, 1659, the town of Nyborg was taken by storm, and the whole Swedish force there entrenched was captured. The Swedish fleet took refuge in Landskrona, where it was blockaded by de Ruyter. The proud spirit of Charles Gustavus was broken by this disaster, and he died a few months later (February 23,1660). Peace between Sweden and Denmark was at length signed at Copenhagen (May 27), guaranteed by the'mediating Powers. The Swedes retained most of their conquests; but the passage of the Sound was made open. The firm, but prudent, policy of de Witt thus successfully attained its aim; and the Republic, after this display of maritime power, took its place with added weight in the councils of Europe.

Charles II in Holland.—Peace with Portugal. [1660-2

The sudden restoration of Charles II in May, 1660, to the throne of his ancestors placed de Witt and the States party in Holland in a dilemma. Their hostility to the interests of the House of Stewart in its hour of humiliation and distress had been marked; but the Grand Pensionary was too supple a statesman not to be able to accommodate himself to the complete change in the situation. Charles was at Breda when the invitation reached him to return to England. The States General, the States of Holland, and de Witt himself, vied with one another in their deferential attitude and in their adulation of the poverty-stricken exile of yesterday who had now become a powerful king. His reception at the Hague was magnificent. When he set sail from Scheveningen, he was solemnly escorted to the beach by the members of the States of Holland and of the States General. Profuse promises of eternal friendship were exchanged. But the States party knew that the change boded them no good. It was significant that, on his public visit to the States of Holland, Charles handed to the Grand Pensionary: a declaration signed by himself, commending to their care “the Princess my sister and the Prince of Orange my nephew, two persons who are extremely dear to me". It was nothing less than a demand for the rescinding of the Act of Seclusion, which indeed speedily followed. De Witt, however, despite the efforts of the Princess Royal, steadily declined to allow the young Prince to be appointed to the civil and military posts held by his ancestors. In many parts of the country, even in Holland itself there were strong movements in favour of William III being at once nominated Captain- and Admiral-General. But de Witt would not consent to this. The States of Holland, however, at his advice, by a unanimous vote, agreed to regard the young Prince as their ward and to educate him at the public expense. William, who had hitherto been under the ban of the ruling authorities, was thus placed in a position which virtually implied the ultimate reversion to him of his, ancestral dignities.

Peace with Portugal was one of the results which flowed from the restoration of Charles II, whose marriage with a Portuguese princess led him to take a friendly interest in the settlement of this protracted dispute. After many delays a treaty was at length signed, August 6,1661, though it was not ratified until the following year. By this treaty the Dutch abandoned all claims in Brazil, subject to an indemnity of 8,000,000 florins to be paid in sixteen years. They were further compensated by being left in possession of their conquests in the East Indies. De Witt had to use all his firmness and skill in the accomplishment of this diplomatic task. He had to face the opposition of Zeeland and Gelderland and the wiles of the English ambassador, George Downing. He had finally to force the hands of the procrastinating Portuguese Government by the threat of the immediate despatch of a Dutch fleet to Lisbon.

Thus in 1662 all outstanding difficulties and quarrels with foreign Powers appeared to have been removed, and an era of peaceful development and progress to lie before the Dutch Republic. The issue was to be far otherwise. An understanding with France had been arrived at (April 27, 1662), and an offensive and defensive alliance concluded, a pledge for the maintenance of which seemed to be assured by the sending of Count d’Estrades, already well known in the Netherlands, as ambassador to the Hague. Between him and John de Witt the closest ties of friendship and confidence were soon established. With England, however, the relations of the United Provinces were strained from the outset of Charles II’s reign, and there was a constantly growing irritation between the two countries, in spite of the efforts made by de Witt to remain on friendly terms. The part, indeed, which the Grand Pensionary took in the delivering up of the three regicides, Burghstead, Corbet and Okey, led to a charge being made against him of cowardice and subserviency. It was all, however, of no avail. Downing, a very master of intrigue, was secretly hostile to the Republic, and used his diplomatic opportunities to aggravate the differences arising from the maritime and commercial rivalry of the two nations. The English Government refused to modify in any way the Act of Navigation, or its claims to the sovereignty of the seas. A prolonged dispute arose as to the indemnity to be paid for the seizure of two English trading vessels in the East Indies. There was a controversy of long standing about the rights of the English and Dutch East India Companies to the possession of the island of Pularoon in the Moluccas. A more serious grievance arose from the seizure, in February, 1664, of some of the Dutch possessions on the west coast of Africa by an English expedition, commanded by Robert Holmes, on behalf of the Royal African Company, of which the Duke of York was patron. Such a flagrant violation of the law of nations in time of peace could not be passed by. As the complaints of the States General to the English Government were met by evasions, it was resolved in all secrecy to order de Ruyter, who was cruising in the Mediterranean with a squadron of twelve ships, to proceed to the coast of Guinea, and reconquer the lost possessions. In October came a still worse piece of news from the West Indies, to the effect that another English expedition, sent out under the auspices of the Duke of York, had taken possession of the Dutch colony of New Netherland on the river Hudson, and had changed the name of the capital from New Amsterdam to New York. The States General again protested in the strongest terms; but nothing was done rashly to provoke hostilities. De Witt was earnestly desirous of maintaining the peace, but the war party in England was all-powerful; and already in December it was clear that nothing but the declaration of war was wanting to make the rupture complete. This followed in March, 1665, and the two nations once more found themselves engaged in a fierce struggle for the mastery of the seas.

The Dutch were far better prepared than in 1653, and the Admiralties vied with each other in building ships and providing equipment.

The want of an Admiral-General was supplied by the immense diligence and zeal of de Witt, who had taken pains to make himself thoroughly acquainted with all the details of naval administration; andwho personally, with the Commissioners appointed by the States General, visited, all the ports and superintended the preparations. Inferior in some respects to the splendidly equipped and disciplined fleet of England, the Dutch navy could at least boast that in Michael A drianszoon de Ruyter it possessed! a leader second to none in the whole history of sea warfare. An account of the naval campaigns of 1665, 1666, 1667 is given in another chapter. It isi sufficient here to say that, while the heroic courage and determination exhibited on both sides have never been surpassed, victory, on the whole inclined to the side of the English, thought the final dazzling exploit of de Ruyter in sailing up the Medway and burning the Englishi ships at their anchorage before Chatham has perhaps impressed the popular! imagination more than any of the gieat. battles,, in which so much skill and endurance were called forth.

The conduct and calmness of the Grand Pensionary throughout the vicissitudes of the struggle all authorities—enemies as well as friends—agree in praising. With imperturbable serenity he faced all the difficulties and changes of fortune, and inspired others with the patriotic faith and. courage which animatedt himself. Not content with the enormous labours involved in the direction and control of tihe diplomatic, financial, and domestic affairs of the Republic, he on more than one occasion himself accompanied the fleets to sea and exposed his person freely to all the dangers of the campaign, instilling into officers and men the strength of will and unremitting energy which were apparent in all; his actions. At no time in his splendid career did John de Witt more conclusively show his possession of rare qualities as a leader of men.

1666-7] Dutch alliance with France.—Peace of Breda.

But though the navy had been raised to a high state of efficiency and was able to hold its own against the superior maritime strength of England, it was far otherwise with the army, whose numbers and training had been allowed to fall far below the requirements of safety. Charles II had concluded a secret alliance with the Bishop of Munster, who had grievances against the States for their refusal, to admit his pretensions to the lordship of Borkelo. Force had even been employed, to prevent him from asserting his claims. The Bishop now (September 19, 1665) declared war and crossed the frontier at the head of an army of 18,000 men, There was no organised force to oppose him, aud no commander-in-chief. William Frederick of Friesland had died (October 81, 1664) from the result of an accident and had been succeeded in his stad-holdrrship by his young son, Henry Casimir II, under the guardianship of his mother. In this emergency the States, offered the command to Joan Maurice of Nassau-Siegen, distinguished as Governor of Dutch Brazil, who, hart latterly been Governor of Cloves for the Elector of Brandenburg. A considerable part of Drente and Overyssel was overrun by the Munster tropps before effectual means of Resistance could be prepared. De Witt, however, secured the assistance of a body of French, troops, and another force of subsidised troops raised iu the Brunswick-Lüneburg dominions under the command of Count George Frederick of Waldeck. By these measures the danger was averted and the Bishop compelled (April 18, 1666) to conclude a peace by which he relinquished all his claims on Borkelo. Already in the beginning of 1666 de Witt had begun to feel his way to opening negotiations with England for peace. While neglecting nothing to draw closer the bonds of alliance with France, who had declared war against England (January, 1666), and to secure the friendly copperation of Denmark and Brandenburg against possible danger from Sweden or Munster, the Grand Pensionary was sincerely anxious to relieve the Netherlands from the tremendous burden, which the cost of the war and the cessation of commerce imposed on the Provinces, especially upon Holland. He knew that England was likewise suffering heavily from the same causes, and he was resolved to spare no effort to promote a good understanding between the two nations. With this object in view he proposed, after consultation with the Princess Dowager of Orange, to the States of Holland that they should take charge of the education of William III, as “Child of State”; and the proposal was carried into effect, April 9, 1666. A commission was now appointed, with the Grand Pensionary himself at its head, whose duty-it was to see that the young Prince was thoroughly instructed in the principles of the Reformed religion and in the good and wholesome rights, privileges and maxims of the State. A similar proposal, it may be remembered, had been made in 1660; but the sudden death of the Princess Royal a few months later and the unfriendly attitude of the English King had caused it to remain a dead letter. Exactly a year, after the passing of this resolution, the plenipotentiaries of the Powers were slowly gathering at Breda for the peace negotiations. The result of the meeting was not encouraging; there was endless haggling over all the old grievances and causes of quarrel, and in the middle of June no sort of progress had been made. The delay led to de Ruyter’s humiliating expedition to Chatham, when the sound of the Dutch guns was heard in London (June 22). This surprising success led to the speedy conclusion of peace (July 31, 1667), on terms which, though showing moderation on the part of de Witt, were far more favourable to the Dutch than could at an earlier period have been thought possible. The Navigation Act remained in force, but was qualified so far as to admit goods from Germany and the southern Netherlands earned in Dutch vessels; while, the question as to the saluting of the English, flag was left untouched. As regards the East and West Indies the principle of uti possidetis was adopted, the date fixed being May 10,1667. This gave New Netherland to England and Pularoon to the States, who also acquired the colony of Surinam and the island of Tobago, which had been conquered by a squadron under the command of the Zeelander Abraham Crynssen (February, 1667).

The signing of the treaty was followed by measures being taken on the part of the Province of Holland to maintain its supremacy in the Union. Serious and widespread movements had for some time been on foot for the overthrow of the States party and the conferring of the posts of Stadholder and Captain-General on the Prince of Orange. To prevent such a consummation, the States of Holland passed (August 5) unanimously what was known as the “Eternal Edict”. It decreed that no Captain or Admiral-General of the Union could be at the same time Stadholder of a province: in Holland itself the office of Stadholder was for ever abolished. This strong step was followed by the trial of the Sieur de Buat, a French officer in the service of the States, before the Supreme Court of Holland for treasonable correspondence, as an Orange agent, with the enemy. Buat was condemned to death and executed (October 11).

France invades Holland. [1667

No sooner was peace concluded with England than the Republic found itself confronted by a new danger from the ambition of its former ally, the King of France. The causes which led to the “War of Devolution” need not be again recounted here. On May 21, 1667, Louis XIV crossed the Belgian frontier with an army of 50,000 men. It was not an invasion, but a state entry of the new ruler of the “Spanish” Netherlands (for Queen Maria Teresa accompanied the expedition) into her inherited dominions. The Spanish Governor, Castel-Rodrigo, was in no position to oppose such a force; and in the course of three months the long line of frontier fortresses fell, almost without resistance, into the hands of the French. The conquest of the whole of the southern Netherlands appeared imminent. Great was the alarm of the Dutch at such a prospect. It had long been a fixed principle of their statesmen, “Greet France as a friend, not as a neighbour”; and de Witt, whose policy it had always been to cultivate the goodwill of France, was fully alive to the vital importance of having a barrier State between the United Provinces and the powerful military monarchy ruled by Louis XIV. He was in a most difficult position. The Dutch Republic, which had just emerged exhausted from one great war, could not venture to oppose by force—with only Spain as an ally the ambitious schemes of the French monarch. To do so would be to court disaster. With d’Estrades at the Hague, and through van Beuningen at Paris, he entered into negotiations, with the aim, if possible, of discovering some compromise which would satisfy the King and at the same time avert in some measure the danger which threatened the States. All his efforts were in vain. His only hope lay in forming a coalition against France; and he turned to England and Sweden. In September John Meerman was sent on a special embassy to England, and negotiations were opened with the Swedish envoy Dohna, at the Hague. The fall of Clarendon and the rise to power of Arlington brought about a complete change of English policy. Sir William Temple, the English resident at Brussels, was sent to the Hague to learn in person the views and aims of de Witt, and afterwards to repair to London to confer with the home Government. Temple was heart and soul in the accomplishment of his mission, and he returned to the Hague (January 17, 1668) commissioned to express on the part of the English Ministry their willingness to cooperate with the United Provinces in common action against French pretensions. It was only natural for the States General, and for de Witt himself, to regard somewhat distrustfully this offer of alliance on the part of their recent enemy. But Temple’s persuasiveness prevailed; and, largely by his personal exertions, the matter was driven through at express speed. Thus, on January 23 the treaty which bound England and the United Provinces to a defensive alliance and joint resistance to French aggression was signed by the English ambassador and the commissioners of the States General. Three days later Dohna was able to inform Temple and de Witt of the adhesion of Sweden to what was now the Triple Alliance. There was great rejoicing among all parties in the Netherlands, which was marked by the presence of both the Prince of Orange and Prince Joan Maurice of Nassau at a ball given by the Grand Pensionary in honour of the occasion.

1667-8] The War of Devolution.—The Triple Alliance.

There were still, however, many difficulties to overcome. The French King was indisposed to draw back in the full tide of success. Spain was unwilling to surrender territory. Swedish support was to a large extent mercenary, and dependent upon subsidies. The firmness of de Witt and the tact of Temple, however, overcame all obstacles. To prove that they were in earnest a strong military force was gathered on the Scheldt and the Yssel, and a fleet equipped. The Spanish Governor, Castel-Rodrigo, was informed that, unless he consented to accept the mediation of the allies, the States army would cross the frontier and occupy Flanders. Louis XIV, now master of Franche Comté, felt himself in a strong position to negotiate and was ready to make concessions rather than enter upon a war in which Spain would have the armed support of the Triple Alliance. The preliminary conditions of peace were settled at St Germain-en-Laye between the French Foreign Minister, Lionne, and the Dutch and English ambassadors, van Beuningen and Trevor (April 15), and confirmed by a conference of the Powers at Aachen (May 2). The treaty was very advantageous to the French King, who restored Franche Comté, but retained in Flanders and Brabant most of the towns he had occupied. A guarantee was given to Spain by the three Powers of the remainder of her Belgian possessions; but the ephemeral character of the Triple Alliance rendered such a guarantee of little real value. It was felt, nevertheless, by all that the result achieved was a great personal triumph for the Grand Pensionary’s statesmanship. He had succeeded in checking the ambitious projects of Louis XIV, at a moment when the French military power seemed to be irresistiible, and in forcing him to conclude peace. At the Congress of Aachen the Dutch Republic was able to take its place among the Great Powers of Europe and to pose as the arbiter of peace and war. Never before or since did the United Provinces occupy so high a position of influence and authority. The Peace of Aachen, following closely upon that of Breda, set the seal to the greatness of the administration of, John de Witt. The inscription upon a medal struck for the occasion gives expression to the proud self-satisfaction felt throughout the States: “After having made the Laws secure, reformed Religion, reconciled Kings, maintained the Freedom of the Seas, established Peace in Europe the Council of the United Netherlands has caused this medal to be struck in 1668.” It reads like an epitaph. The sequel will show that as such it might well be regarded.

Peace of Aachen.—Treaty of Dover [1668-71

The Peace of Aachen rankled in the mind of Louis XIV, and from this time he vowed the destruction of the Dutch Republic and of the Grand Pensionary. His first efforts were directed to the detachment of Charles II from the “Triple Bond.” It was not a difficult task. Charles’ object in entering it had been not to maintain Spain in possession of the southern Netherlands, but to detach the Dutch Republic from France. Every possible ground of dispute with the Netherlander arising out of the Treaty of Breda was now raked up and treated as a diplomatic grievance. In vain was van Beuningen sent on a special mission to London in June, 1670, to settle complaints about comparatively trifling matters in the East Indies and in Surinam. There was a strong war party in England, who wished to wipe out the memory of Chatham, and Charles only too readily fell in with their wishes. On December 81,1671, he concluded at Dover a secret treaty with Louis XIV, which bound him, in consideration of a yearly subsidy of 3,000,000 francs and the acquisition of Walcheren and the mouths, of the Scheldt, to abandon the Triple Alliance and at the bidding of Louis declare wax upon the Dutch. At the same time steps were being successfully taken to undermine the, at all times, rather wavering attachment of Sweden to the Alliance.

At home in the United Provinces the position of de Witt had during the English War become decidedly weaker. The bitterest attacks were made upon him, and nothing but want of leaders prevented the Orange party from the overthrow of the stadholderless Government. Even among his old friends there was dissatisfaction at the ascendancy of what may be styled the de Witt family connexion. Van Beverningh resigned the post of Treasurer-General. Van Beuningen, who had great influence in Amsterdam, became alienated. Indeed, a strong opposition to de Witt, was gradually forming there, of which the leader was Gillis Valckenier. And, meanwhile, the prince of Orange was slowly growing to adolescence. Of feeble health and weak in body, William was endowed by nature with extraordinary intelligence and a strength of character quite uncommon. He had passed a somewhat miserable boyhood amidst the jars of family quarrels. His home was a hot-bed of intrigue, and he was keenly watched, by eager partisans and jealous enemies. But with a self-restraint that was almost unnatural, observing everything, committing no false step, uttering no rash words, William bided his time. Cold, calm and impenetrable, in proud isolation, forming his plans for the future, confident that his hour would come, with a sagacity and a dissimulation beyond his years the heir of the Nassaus went quietly on his way. How many an anxious moment must de Witt have passed, as he tried to read the thoughts and to forecast the future of the Child of State, whose tutelage the Province of Holland had placed largely in his hands! The Eternal Edict of August, 1667, is a measure of the fear with which, the Grand Pensionary and the Holland Regents regarded the growing menace to the domination of their party. The erection of this paper barrier gave a sense of security. To the majority at least, if not to all. The story runs that, as the document lay on the table before him, de Witt’s, cousin, Vivien, the Pensionary of Dort, stuck the point of his, penknife through it. “What are you doing?” asked the Grand Pensionary. “I am trying to see what steel can do against parchment,” was the reply.

The earnestness with which de Witt set, to work to persuade the other Provinces to follow the example of Holland shows that he was haunted by the same suspicion as Vivien. He succeeded quickly in gaining over Gelderland, Utrecht, and Overyssel; but for a long time Zeeland, Friesland, and Groningen absolutely refused their concurrence. In these Provinces the Orange partisans had the upper hand, and they remained deaf to all the solicitations addressed to them.

Meanwhile, in July, 1668, de Witt, whose five years’ term of office had been renewed in 1658 and 1663, was now for the fourth time reappointed Grand Pensionary, and in recognition of his great services with a doubled salary, besides a large gratuity. Hitherto his salary had been only 3000 florins; and since 1660 he had derived another 3000 florins from the emoluments of two other offices. He had, however, never cared for display; but had lived like an ordinary burgher in a modest house, keeping only a single man-servant and dressing with great simplicity. His marriage had been very happy, and his only pleasure and relaxation had been found in the quiet joys of family and domestic life. The death of his wife, which took place but a few weeks before his re-electipn, was a heavy blow to him. De Witt on this occasion, as in 1663, before entering upon this fresh period of office requested the States of Holland to give him an Act of Indemnity and a promise of a judicial post on his retirement.

“Concept of Harmony”. Designs of Louis XIV.

Two months later (September, 1668), the Prince of Orange gave the first clear sign of his intention to claim to the full, as opportunity offered, his ancestral rights and dignities. On the pretence of a visit to Breda he made his way to Middelburg, where the States of Zeeland had just met, to take his seat, being now 18 years of age, as first noble in their Assembly. Amidst the jubilation of the populace he made his state entry into the town in a coach drawn by six horses, attended by a numerous suite. Following the example of his ancestors, he merely came to be installed in person in his post, after which by the leave of the States he appointed his cousin, the Lord of Odyk, to act as his representative. The installation over, he returned to the Hague, where for another two years he was content to remain nominally under the guardianship of the States of Holland. During this interval the Grand Pensionary had at last succeeded in obtaining the consent of all the Provinces to the Eternal Edict, his so-called “Concept of Harmony.” Zeeland, Friesland and Groningen, however, made it a condition of their assent, that William, now in his twenty-first year, should be at once made a member of the Council of State. It was still a question whether he should have the right to vote or only to advise. De Witt was in favour of the restricted power; but, finding that he had not the support of Amsterdam, he gave way. The Grand Pensionary had now to reckon with the formation of a powerful middle party with Orange leanings, of which Gillis Valckenier and Conrad van Beuningen at Amsterdam, and Caspar Fagel, the influential Pensionary of Haarlem, were the leaders. Van Beuningen and Valckenier were successively elected Burgomasters at Amsterdam in opposition to all the influence of the Bickers and de Graeffs and the de Witt connexion. The election of Fagel as Secretary (Griffier) to the States General (November, 1670) by removing him from the States of Holland, however, strengthened de Witt’s influence in the latter assembly, as did also the appointment of Pieter de Groot, on his return from his embassy in Sweden, to the post of Pensionary of Rotterdam. He was a devoted adherent of the Grand Pensionary, whose downfall powerful enemies in his own Provincial States were now working to bring about.

The steps taken by Louis XIV to break up the Triple Alliance and to isolate the United Provinces have already been noted. The Secret Treaty of Dover (December 81,1671) had bound Charles II to join with the French King in making war on a people still nominally allied with England. The feelings of enmity to the Dutch on the part of Louis had not been concealed. He had placed heavy duties on all goods from the United Provinces entering French harbours. The States General in their turn had laid duties on French goods entering the Netherlands, and a tariff war had ensued. But, despite all these signs of ill-will, de Witt appeared to be blind to the design and the preparations of Louis. Perhaps he could not bring himself to believe that the French monarch had conceived so embittered a hatred against himself personally, and had resolved at all costs to compass the destruction of the Republic. De Witt knew that war would mean the transfer of authority from his hands to those of the Prince, and he still hoped by conciliation to avert it. His trusted confidant, Pieter de Groot, the Pensionary of Rotterdam, was sent as ambassador to Paris. He was received with all personal courtesy, but could effect nothing. He soon convinced himself that war was inevitable, and in his despatches urged the Grand Pensionary to prepare for it. In March, 1672, he quitted Paris, and on April 6 Louis declared war against the States. Already on March 28 a similar declaration had been made by England. Munster and Cologne followed. The only allies of the United Provinces were Spain, Brandenburg, and the Emperor.

At sea the Dutch had a fleet strong enough to defend their shores under such a commander as de Ruyter even against an Anglo-French coalition; but on land the condition of things was very different. Economy had been the watchword, and had led to repeated disbandments. The army was small in numbers and thoroughly disorganised. The town levies (waardgelders) were called out, and foreign mercenaries hurriedly recruited, but a trained staff of officers and proper cohesion were wanting. Meanwhile a splendid French army, 120,000 strong, was advancing against the Provinces from the south under the command of some of the first captains of the age, while their eastern frontier was attacked simultaneously from the side of Munster and Cologne. There was practically no resistance. Within a month Gelderland, Overyssel, Drente, and Utrecht were overrun. The opening of the dykes alone saved Holland itself from invasion. Black despair brooded over the land. Business ceased. Men knew not what to do. All eyes were turned to the young Prince of Orange.

Already at the first approach of war William, though not yet twenty-two years of age, had been appointed Captain-General of the Union amidst general rejoicings (February 25). The office had been granted to him only for one campaign, with restricting conditions as to its exercise, betokening the unwillingness with which at last the burgher-regents yielded to the overwhelming force of public opinion. It was but the beginning of a movement that nothing could check. The Eternal Edict was swept on one side. On July 2 the States of Zeeland elected William Stadholder; two days later the States of Holland did the same. On the 8th he was made Captain- and Admiral-General of the Union. The call came suddenly; but it did not find the Prince unprepared. Though he had had no experience of administration, no schooling in the art of war, he set about his task with calm self­confidence and determination. The mere fact that a Prince of Orange was once more head of the State inspired confidence. That confidence became redoubled when it was seen that this youth was dowered with all the qualities of leadership, which were the heritage of his House.

The immediate cause which led to the revolution of July 2-4 was the failure of de Groot’s mission to move Louis XIV to terms of peace. Amidst the shipwreck of his life’s work, de Witt had through the months of May and June laboured with unremitting zeal. Finance, the equipment of the fleet, negotiations, the cutting of the dykes for the defence of Holland—all had occupied his attention. Both he and his brother had stood by the side of de Ruyter at the great sea-fight at Southwold Bay (June 6), which prevented the combined English and French fleets from effecting a landing on the Dutch coast. But this display of patriotic courage availed nothing to lessen the people’s growing hatred of the two brothers, who were looked upon as the enemies of the Prince of Orange and as the primary cause of the misfortunes which had fallen on the State. Attempts were made on the lives of both—on John at the Hague (June 21); on Comelis at Dort (June 23). In the face of strong opposition, de Witt had just at this time sent Pieter de Groot on a special mission to Louis XIV to supplicate for peace. He was to offer the French King the surrender of Maastricht, with the Generality Lands (States-Brabant and States-Flanders), and the payment of all the costs of the war. The offer was scornfully rejected; impossible and humiliating terms were asked, including a large cession of territory to France and other cessions to England, Cologne, and Munster, and an enormous war indemnity of 16,000.000 florins. Asked for his advice by the States of Holland, William replied: “All that stands in the missive is unacceptable; rather let us be hacked into pieces than accept such conditions.” His advice was accepted by a unanimous vote. But his Highness drew a difference between England and France. “The English proposals,” he said, “come not from the King, but from his Ministers; therefore answer France that the conditions are unacceptable, nothing more; with England keep the negotiations alive.” Already William had firmly grasped what were to be the unchanging principles of his whole life’s policy. To seek the friendship of England, and with her help, and, if possible, with other allies, to beat back the aggression of France and maintain against the ambition of Louis the freedom of nations and the balance of power—these were the objects at which from the first he aimed, and whose realisation he pursued with a resolution that nothing could shake. On the present occasion great concessions were offered to England; but, although King Charles was well disposed to his nephew personally, his demands were inadmissible and were rejected. “But don’t you see that the Republic is lost?” the English envoy is reported to have said. “I know one sure means of not seeing her downfall,” was the haughty reply of the Prince—“to die in the defence of the last ditch.”

Murder of the brothers de Witt.

The Orange restoration had been bloodless, but a catastrophe was to follow. The hatred which had long been felt against de Witt and the oligarchic burgher party by the mass of the people had been intensified by late events and now found vent in popular outbursts and acts of violence against members of the oligarchy which had so long ruled the land. There was a rain of scandalous pamphlets against the Grand Pensionary, who was charged, among other things, with malappropriation of public funds. Rising from his sick bed, de Witt defended himself in the States, and was by a unanimous vote exonerated (July 23). His brother Cornelis was equally an object of hatred. At Dort, where once the de Witts had been supreme, his portrait in the Town Hall was torn in pieces and the pictured head hung from a gallows. On July 24 he was suddenly arrested on a charge, brought against him by a barber named Tichelaer, of being an accomplice in a plot against the Prince, and was incarcerated in the Gevangenpoort at the Hague. On August 4, John de Witt asked the States of Holland to accept his resignation of the office of Grand Pensionary and to give him the judicial post that had been promised to him on his retirement. The resignation was accepted; but, in accordance with the wishes of the Prince, no vote of thanks was given to him for his services. William, however, agreed that his request for an appointment as judge in the High Court should be granted. Five days later Caspar Fagel was chosen Grand Pensionary in his place. Meanwhile, Cornelis de Witt had been lying in the Gevangenpoort awaiting his trial. Six judges were specially commissioned to try him. On August 19 he was put to the torture, and on the following day sentence was pronounced against him of deprivation of all his offices and banishment from the land. The Ruwaard, on learning his fate, sent a message to his brother that he wished to see him. John de Witt, though warned of the risk he was running, proceeded forthwith to the prison, where he had a long interview with Cornelis. Meanwhile a vast crowd collected outside and barred all exit. Three companies of cavalry under Count Tilly had been posted by the States of Holland near the prison, with orders, if necessary, to disperse any rabble that seemed bent on mischief. Later, the civic guard (schutterij) were called out. The air was full of rumours; and, hearing that a body of peasantry were marching towards the town, the Deputed-Councillors sent a message to Tilly, directing him to take two of his companies and close all ingress into the gates, leaving the civic guard to keep the crowd in check. Tilly refused to leave his station without a written order, and when he received it, exclaimed, “I will obey, but the de Witts are now dead men.” He was right. The sdhutterij were citizens with the same prejudices against the de Witts as the mob before them; and, instead of keeping order, with a few exceptions they fraternised with the rabble. Seeing they had now a free hand, the crowd, urged on by their leaders, foremost amongst them a goldsmith named Verhoeff van Bankhem, one of the sheriffs, and the barber Tichelaer, forced open the door of the prison and rushed in. It was about 4 p.m. The two brothers were seized, hurried with violence into the street and there brutally murdered. They were literally torn to pieces, and finally their bloodstained and hardly recognisable remains were hung up by the feet to a lamp-post.

Was William in any way privy to or morally implicated in this horrible deed? The answer must be, no. He was absent from the Hague at the time, and most careful research in the records has failed to discover any trace of complicity. The murder was the savage act of a maddened mob. It must, however, be admitted that the Prince refused to take any steps to punish the chief instigators of the riot, and that they were in fact protected and rewarded. There is good evidence to show that William was deeply moved when the news of the tragic ending of the de Witts was brought to him; but his cold temperament led him to regard the matter dispassionately, now that it was an accomplished fact, from the point of view of political gain and loss. The impulse, which had moved the crowd, had after all been love to himself and his House; the number of the leaders was large; to proceed against them criminally would infallibly stir up party strife at a moment of crisis when the whole strength of the country required to be concentrated on the task of resisting the invader. Such were the arguments which seem to have weighed with the Stadholder. It is to be regretted that he allowed any considerations to influence him to leave this “execrable faict,” as the new Grand Pensionary Fagel termed it, unpunished. By acting as he did William III has made it impossible for posterity to clear his own memory from suspicion and his country from the charge of base ingratitude.

That the young Stadholder should have wished to he relieved of any addition to the heavy cares and responsibilities which rested upon his shoulders in the summer of 1672, may well be granted. The very existence of the land depended upon the holding of the water-line (from Scheldt to Zuyderzee) against the advance of Luxembourg and Turenne. Had the French pressed on in June, there is little doubt it might have been carried. But time was lost in petty sieges; and in August the Prince, with the help of the experienced commander Waldeck, now appointed Field-Marshal in the States service, and of van Beverningh, deputy of the States General in the field, and other capable advisers, had placed the whole line in a thorough state of defence. Small vessels detached from the fleet cruised up and down all navigable waters, and at the weak points fortifications had been thrown up which were held by strong garrisons. The whole force at William’s disposal reached in the autumn 57,000 men, many of them experienced and disciplined soldiers. The successful defence of Groningen against the Cologne-Munster troops (July 21 to August 26) checked the advance of the enemy on the eastern frontier. The invasion was brought to a standstill. But the Prince was not content with inaction. He made an attack on Woerden (October 10), which failed. So did a more daring attempt to cut the French lines of communication at Charleroi; but the display of vigour and initiative on the part of the young commander was of good service to his cause. At the close of his first campaign William III had succeeded in winning the confidence of his own troops and the respect of his foes. The surprise of Coeverden (December 29) by a small force under the command of Rabenhaupt, the defender of Groningen, brought the year to an end with a gleam of success. Luxembourg indeed had taken advantage of a hard winter to march over the frozen waters, burning and plundering, to the very walls of the Hague, but the thaw obliged him to retreat (December, 1672).

In the following year the tide began to turn in favour of the Netherlanders, Spain and Austria lent active assistance. De Ruyter and Cornelis Tromp fought successfully with inferior forces against the allied English and French fleets at Schooneveld (June 7 and 14); while at Kykduin (August 21) the advantage was still more decisive. Maestricht surrendered to the French in June, but William captured Naarden in September; and at the head of an allied force of Imperial, Spanish and Dutch troops besieged and took Bonn (November 5-12). The loss of this important Rhine fortress compelled the French to evacuate the United Netherlands. The French King’s schemes of conquest had thus completely failed. Once more a Prince of Orange had freed the country from the yoke of a foreign foe. He was rewarded by the grant of almost sovereign power. In the three reconquered Provinces of Gelderland, Utrecht, and Overyssel he became Stadholder with greatly increased prerogatives. Further, all the five stadholderships were declared to be hereditary by the respective Provinces, as were also the offices of Captain- and Admiral-General of the Union by the States General. Over the conduct of foreign affairs he had complete control. So long as he retained this control he was content. On the wide field of international politics William III’s chief interest and attention were throughout his life centred; in domestic affairs his assiduous care was so far as possible to avoid complications, which might interfere with the carrying out of his plans for curbing the ambition of Louis XIV by means of the English alliance. The first great step was taken when peace with England was concluded (February 19, 1674). The conditions were practically the same as at Breda. All States ships were to strike the flag even when meeting a single English man-of-war. The United Provinces were to pay a war indemnity of 2,000,000 florins. Surinam was retained by the Dutch, and New Netherland, which had been reconquered by a squadron under the command of Evertsen in 1673, was restored to the English. Treaties of peace were likewise signed with Munster (April 22) and Cologne (May 11). The Republic had succeeded in isolating France, with whom war still continued, and had secured for herself a group of allies—the Emperor, Spain, the Dukes of Brunswick-Luneburg, Brandenburg, and Denmark.

Death of de Ruyter.—Louis and William. [1675-7

The Prince of Orange was the soul and guiding spirit of the Coalition. At the head of an allied army of some 70,000 men, William met Condé at Seneff (August 11,1674), commanding an almost equal force. It was the first pitched battle in which he had held supreme command. Both armies suffered severe losses, and no decisive advantage was gained; but the Prince displayed a coolness, courage, and skill which greatly increased his military renown. The year 1675 was marked by the despatch of de Ruyter with a weak squadron to the Mediterranean, to help the Spaniards to put down an insurrection in Sicily. The great Admiral bitterly complained to the States General of the condition of the ships with which he had been sent to contend with a superior French fleet under Duquesne. Two battles were fought: the first off Stromboli (April 22), with doubtful issue; the second off Messina a week later, in which the Dutch were successful, but de Ruyter was wounded severely. He died shortly afterwards. His was a loss that could not be replaced. In a subsequent battle at Palermo the Dutch were defeated, and de Ruyter’s successor in command, Vice-Admiral de Haan, killed. In 1676 the States navy regained its laurels by a brilliant victory gained by a combined Danish-Dutch fleet under Cornelis Tromp (June 11) at Oland over a superior Swedish force. During the last years of the war Dutch commerce suffered severely at the hands of the Dunkirk corsairs, amongst whom Jean Bart made himself famous by his boldness and success. On land, the war operations went on without any decisive events. In a battle fought at Montcassel against the Duke of Orleans (April 11,1677), in an attempt to relieve St Omer, the allies were defeated, but they were saved from a rout by the personal efforts of the young commander, who conducted a masterly retreat. The great qualities of William III, as a general, were always most evident in the hour of danger and defeat.

The lack of success attending the efforts of the allies gave added force to the general desire for peace which was felt in the Netherlands. The country was suffering severely from the heavy war charges, and craved relief. Already in the spring of 1676 the French King, fearing lest England should be induced to join the coalition against him, and having troubles at home to occupy his attention, had made serious proposals for peace, and negotiations had been opened at Nymegen. But it was a long time before the plenipotentiaries met, and still longer before any basis for a settlement could be arrived at. Meanwhile the war went on. France was anxious to conclude a separate treaty with the States, and to obtain this was willing to make concessions. Public opinion in the Netherlands was quite prepared to treat separately with Louis; but to this the Stadholder was resolutely opposed. He held that it would be a breach of faith on the part of the States General to make peace entirely in their own interests, and to leave the allies in the lurch to whose help they had owed so much in their hour of jeopardy. He had no faith in the French King’s intentions. He had been working steadily, since the Peace of Westminster had been concluded, to induce England to join the coalition against France, and thus to be able to place an effectual barrier in the path of the ambitions of Louis. To attain this end had been, from the time of his accession to power, the chief aim, the pivot of his policy. William’s opponents in the Provinces accused him of love of war and of the glory to be achieved on the field of battle. The desire for military fame was, it is not to be denied, a consuming passion with him; but it was not the ruling motive.

It is not too much to say that England occupied in the mind and the calculations of William III a place of vital interest and concern. He had no sooner secured the position in the Netherlands which he looked upon as his paternal heritage, than his ambition began to busy itself with the possibilities which the future might have in store for him as the son of the Princess Royal of England.

1674-8] William's relations with England. His marriage.

After his uncles, Charles II and James Duke of York, only James’ two daughters stood between him and the throne. He was, unless the Duke of York should have a son by his second marriage, actually the next male of the blood-royal. This fact that the Duke of York had become a zealous convert to Roman Catholicism had aroused a strong feeling of aversion from his succession on the part of the large majority of the English nation, who naturally turned their eyes to the young Dutch Stadholder, the representative of a race which had done so much in defence of the Protestant cause. But the relations which William established with a number of leading English statesmen, and the part, however, that he took in Court intrigues and parliamentary struggles during these years will be more appropriately treated elsewhere in this volume. He played a difficult and a subtle game, and he succeeded in gaining his end, chiefly because he knew his own mind and was not deterred either by failures or by risks from going forward along the path he had marked out for himself. For his sister’s son King Charles had perhaps as much affection as was to be expected from a man of his heartless temperament; but William’s influence was not sufficient to make Charles give up the French connection, and form, as his nephew urged and as the majority of the English people wished, an alliance with the Dutch Republic against Louis. Thus things remained for some years, but at last in 1676 there came a change. The difficulties with his Parliament, and his knowledge of the influence his nephew possessed with the Opposition, led Charles to see the advantage of drawing closer his relations with him. Already in 1674 there had been proposals for a marriage between him and his cousin Mary, the eldest daughter of the Duke of York. But, apart from other reasons, the youth of the Princess (born 1662) led to a postponement of the plan. The project, which had never been dropped, once more revived in 1677. His defeat at Montcassel had made the Prince feel more strongly than ever the necessity of securing the support of England in the war, and in the summer of this year he sent over his friend and trusted confidant Bentinck on a mission to London. The result was an invitation to William to pay a personal visit to the English Court, with a view to the conclusion of the marriage with Mary, and to the establishment of more friendly political relations. On October 19 the Prince arrived in London, and shortly afterwards the marriage was concluded which was to have such far-reaching consequences for the history of England and of Europe. But even at such a moment in his life William’s thoughts were dominated by politics; and, when in the beginning of December he and Mary took ship for Holland, he had won over King Charles to promise his support to the conditions of peace offered by the allies to France, and his adhesion to the coalition in case of the rejection. On January 10, 1678, the treaty between England and tbe United Provinces giving effect to these undertakings was, signed and sealed. The results, however, did not fulfil William’s expectations. The dynastic connection had been viewed with distrust both by the English Parliament and by the powerful peace party in Holland, headed by Amsterdam. Indeed, in the Netherlands the Stadholder found himself confronted by an almost general opposition to the further prosecution of the war. Not merely were Valckenier and Hooft, the two most influential leaders in Amsterdam, against him; but in the ranks of the opposition were to be found Fagel, van Beverningh and van Beuningen, and even William’s young cousin, Henry Casimir, the Stadholder of Friesland. French diplomacy, meanwhile, was kept well informed of all that was occurring, and took full advantage of its knowledge in order to bring about that separate peace which Louis XIV desired.

In the meantime, a vigorous campaign was conducted by the French armies in the southern Netherlands. Ghent and Ypres fell, and the war again drew very close to the Dutch frontiers. The dread of another invasion strengthened the efforts of the peace party. Seizing their advantage, the French plenipotentiaries at Nymegen addressed themselves directly to the States General with the offer of favourable conditions; and on June 1 an armistice of six weeks was concluded. The French offered to restore Maestricht and the district known as Overmaas to the States, to conclude an advantageous treaty of commerce, and to leave the Spanish Netherlands covered by a line of fortresses. They claimed, however, as the fruits of the war the incorporation of Franche Comté and suzerainty over Lorraine. These conditions the States General, in spite of the opposition of the Stadholder, agreed to accept, and they persuaded Spain to acquiesce. The Emperor, Brandenburg, and Denmark, however, refused the terms offered them, and were bitterly incensed at being deserted. The French plenipotentiaries now suddenly announced that they would not restore the conquered towns until full restitution for her losses had been made to Sweden by Denmark and Brandenburg. This sudden change of attitude led England to declare that, unless before August 11 the French consented to the immediate restoration of the towns, she would make common cause with the Republic in re­opening the war (July 26). The aim of the French in delaying the conclusion of the treaty had been to gain time for Luxembourg to reduce Mons, which he was blockading by famine, for Spain had not been included in the armistice, and so to obtain by the possession of so important a place a more favourable position for negotiating with that Power. The Prince, who had advanced to relieve the town, waited anxiously in his camp for the day when the truce should end. The only fear was that Mons might not be able to hold out. But at the very last moment, just before midnight on August 10, the French plenipotentiaries signified to van Beverningh their intention to sign the treaty with the States on the conditions previously agreed upon; though difficulties on certain points were raised to delay the signing of the treaty with Spain. On August 13 news reached William of the signature of the Treaty on the 10th by van Beverningh, but not an official intimation. On the morning of the 14th official information from d’Estrées was brought to Luxembourg, who was on the point of communicating the fact to William, when the Prince’s advancing army compelled the Marshal to join battle at St Denys. The issue was undecided; but it achieved its purpose of preventing the surrender of Mons. A month later (September 17) peace with Spain was concluded, at the cost to that Power of Franche Comté and twelve fortresses, and the French armies evacuated the Spanish Netherlands.

1678-85] Peace of Nymegen.

The Peace of Nymegen brought a welcome respite to the Netherlands; but, though it endured for ten years, it was felt to be an armed truce rather than a permanent settlement of differences. It left Louis XIV the dictator of Europe. Meanwhile his sleepless adversary in Holland strove against almost insuperable difficulties to arouse his countrymen to a sense of the dangers which threatened them, and to revive the coalition which the conclusion of a separate peace by the United Provinces at Nymegen had broken in pieces. But the old anti-Stadholder party had again lifted up its head and offered strenuous opposition to all schemes and proposals which might lead to a renewal of war with its heavy imposts and interference with commerce. Of this opposition Amsterdam was the head and centre, and it had the support of Henry Casimir, who was jealous of the supremacy of his cousin in the Republic, the two Provinces of which he was Stadholder, Friesland and Groningen, following his lead. The death, in 1680, of Gillis Valckenier, who had for a decade been the most influential man in Amsterdam and had induced his fellow-citizens to offer a bitter and stubborn resistance to William’s policy, somewhat relieved the strained situation. The Amsterdamers, however, continued to be an obstacle in the Prince’s path, though their leaders, Nicolaes Witsen and Johan Hudde, were not men of the same calibre as Valckenier. William had also to contend with the secret intrigues of the experienced French ambassador, Count d’Avaux, who did his utmost, by threats, promises, and bribery, to undermine the influence of the Stadholder, and, by fomenting the divisions and party spirit in the United Provinces, to render them powerless in the councils of Europe. In the southern Netherlands, Luxemburg and Alsace Louis was able to pursue his policy of plunder and aggression unchecked. William’s repeated efforts to form an armed alliance which should compel the French King to adhere to the terms of the Peace of Nymegen were fruitless. His countrymen were determined to hold aloof from foreign entanglements, so long as no one interfered with their thriving trade and rapidly reviving prosperity.

The events of 1685 were to give a shock to their self-complacency and be a lever in the hands of William of which he was not slow to avail himself. These were the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and the Accession to the English throne of James II. Already, from 1681 onwards, the persecutions of the Protestants in France had led a constant stream of refugees to seek shelter in the free Netherlands. But with the Revocation of the Edict their number was swelled by tens of thousands; and among the refugees were many of the most industrious and skilled workmen of France, who were received with open arms by their fellow-Protestants in Holland, the towns vying with one another in offering them freedom of settlement and municipal privileges. Great was the impression produced by the tales that were brought by these unhappy Huguenots of the character of the French King and of his government; and even in Amsterdam a strong feeling of enmity to Louis and abhorrence of his methods of rule gained possession of the people. D’Avaux had to confess that his influence grew less and less, while that of the Stadholder increased. In August, 1686, William’s skilful and patient diplomacy was able to bring about an alliance between the Republic, the Emperor, Brandenburg, Spain, and Sweden, for the maintenance of the treaties of Munster and Nymegen, and for common defence. The coalition was, however, incomplete, for it did not include England. In that country the accession of James had been followed by a deliberate attempt on the part of the new King to set up absolute rule and to establish Roman Catholicism as the religion of the State. This necessitated the severance of all connexion with the Protestant Powers, and a return once more to the policy by which the King of England depended for support upon the subsidies of a foreign Power in order to dispense with the necessity of applying to his own Parliament for money grants. As the feelings of the nation became more and more outraged by the arbitrary acts of James, those who were deeply attached to the cause of civil and religious liberty turned their eyes to the Prince of Orange, who had never ceased to keep himself in close touch with a number of leading English statesmen. At the same time public opinion in the States, with its growing enmity to France, could not remain unmoved by the spectacle of a Romish King in England in league with Louis for the oppression of his Protestant subjects. The spectre of 1672 began to loom large in the imagination of the Netherlanders—the uneasy feeling that the Republic might find itself at any moment face to face with a combined attack from France and England.

William took full advantage of the change of sentiment to press forward by negotiations public and private to the realisation of his unalterable and dominating life-purpose—the welding together of a coalition against French overlordship in Europe. A man of inflexible temper and one overmastering idea does not as a rule ingratiate himself with others. This was eminently the case with William III. Haughty, cold, domineering, somewhat harsh in his manner, he was not a man to win popular applause, or an attractive personality. Except to Waldeck and Bentinck and a few confidants, he never unbosomed himself; he was to the outside world a riddle, misunderstood and misjudged, as can be seen by the portrait drawn of him in the memoirs of Constantine Huyghens, who was for many years his secretary. No one suffered more from the unamiable qualities of William than his wife. Gentle, unassuming, sympathetic, deeply and sincerely religious, and filled with a profound sense of duty, she was rightly regarded by the people amongst whom by a marriage of state her lot had been cast, as a model of what a woman, a wife and a princess should be. No Princess of Orange ever succeeded in winning her way so completely to the hearts and affections of the Dutch of all classes. And yet for years her husband treated her with a frigid indifference and neglect, which it is impossible to excuse. The estrangement between them did not tend to increase William’s popularity, and it caused pain and wonder to many, among these to Bishop Burnet on his visit to the Hague in 1686. He spoke to the Prince on the matter, and learnt to his astonishment that the aversion, for it amounted to this, arose chiefly from the fact that the proud, masterful nature of the man could not endure the thought that one day his wife would be a queen in her own right and that he would be her subject. No sooner was Mary informed by the Bishop of the Prince’s grievance than she at once sought an interview with her husband, and told him that she would never consent to accept the Crown unless Parliament would grant to William the right not merely to the regal title but to the administration of the Government. “In return,” she said, “I only ask this, that, as I shall observe the precept which enjoins wives to obey their husbands, you will observe that which enjoins husbands to love their wives.” William was deeply touched, and from that time there was reconciliation between them. Neither of them can have suspected that within two years Mary would be called upon to choose between the cause of her husband and her religion and the ties of filial love. She did not hesitate to follow what she conceived to be the path of duty. Side by side in Westminster Abbey on February 21, 1689, William III and Mary II were crowned King and Queen of England, but it was William who sat upon St Edward’s Chair.


Further reading


James Gedden - History of the administration of John De Witt, grand pensionary of Holland. VOLUME ONE // VOLUME TWO