CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
C.F. CLAY, MANAGER
LONDON: FETTER LANE, E.C.4
HISTORY OF HOLLAND
D. LITT., F.R.G.S., F.R.HIST.S.
SOMETIME FELLOW OF BRASENOSE COLLEGE, OXFORD HON.
MEMBER OF THE DUTCH HISTORICAL SOCIETY, UTRECHT
FOREIGN MEMBER OF THE NETHERLANDS SOCIETY OF LITERATURE, LEYDEN
CAMBRIDGE AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS 1922
THE LAST YEARS OF DE WITT'S ADMINISTRATION, 1665-1672. THE SECOND ENGLISH WAR. THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE. THE FRENCH INVASION
THE declaration of war in March, 1665, found the Dutch navy, thanks to the prescience and personal care of the council-pensionary, far better prepared for a struggle with the superior resources of its English rival than was the case in 1654. John de Witt, aided by his brother Cornelis, had supplied the lack of an admiral-general by urging the various Admiralty Boards to push on the building of vessels in size, construction and armaments able to contend on equal terms with the English men-of-war. He had, moreover, with his usual industry taken great pains to study the details of admiralty-administration and naval science; and now, in company with the Commissioners of the States-General, he visited all the ports and dockyards and saw that every available ship was got ready for immediate service, provided with seasoned crews, and with ample stores and equipment. The English on their side were equally ready for the enCounter. After the death of Cromwell the fleet had been neglected, but during the five years that had passed since the Restoration steps had been taken to bring it to an even greater strength and efficiency than before. Whatever may have been the faults of the Stewart kings, neglect of the navy could not be laid to their charge. One of the first steps of Charles II was to appoint his brother James, Duke of York, to the post of Lord-High-Admiral; and James was unremitting in his attention to his duties, and a most capable naval administrator and leader, while Charles himself never ceased during his reign to take a keen interest in naval matters. In his case, as previously in the case of his father, it was lack of the necessary financial means that alone prevented him from creating an English fleet that would be capable of asserting that "sovereignty in the narrow seas," which was the traditional claim of the English monarchy. [pg.237]
The English were ready before the Dutch, who were hampered in their preparations by having five distinct Boards of Admiralty. The Duke of York put to sea with a fleet of 100 ships at the end of April and, cruising off the coast of Holland, cut off the main Dutch fleet in the Texel from the Zeeland contingent. It was unfortunate for Holland that Michael Adriansz de Ruyter, one of the greatest of seamen, was at this time still in the Mediterranean Obdam, to whom the chief command was given, waited until a storm drove the enemy to their harbours. He then united all the Dutch squadrons and crossing to Southwold Bay found the English fleet ready for battle. After some manoeuvring the action was joined on June 13, and after a bloody fight ended most disastrously for the Dutch. The flag-ships in the course of the struggle became closely engaged, with the result that Obdam's vessel suddenly blew up, while that of the English admiral was seriously damaged and he himself wounded. The Dutch line had already been broken, and the fate of their commander decided the issue. The Dutch in great confusion sought the shelter of their shoals, but their habit of firing at the masts and rigging had so crippled their opponents that a vigorous pursuit was impossible. Nevertheless the English had gained at the first enCounter a decided victory. Sixteen Dutch ships were sunk or destroyed, nine captured, and at least 2000 men were killed, including three admirals, and as many more taken prisoners. The English had but one vessel sunk, and their casualties did not amount to more than a third of the Dutch losses. The consternation and anger in Holland was great. Jan Evertsen, the second-in-command, and a number of the captains were tried by court-martial; and the reorganisation of the fleet was entrusted to Cornells Tromp, who, encouraged and aided by the council-pensionary, set himself with great energy to the task.
The English meanwhile were masters of the sea, though administrative shortcomings, defects of victualling and shortage of men prevented them from taking full advantage of their success. Early in August, however, a fleet under the Earl of Sandwich attempted to capture a number of Dutch East Indiamen, who had sailed round the north of Scotland. The East Indiamen took refuge in the neutral port of Bergen. Here Sandwich ventured to attack them but was driven off by the forts. While he was thus engaged in the north the Channel was left free; and De Ruyter with his [pg.238] squadron seized the opportunity to return to home-waters without opposition. His arrival was of the greatest value to the Dutch, and he was with universal approval appointed to succeed Obdam as lieutenant-admiral of Holland, and was given the supreme command on the sea. Tromp, angry at being superseded, was with difficulty induced to serve under the new chief, but he had to yield to the force of public opinion. De Ruyter at once gave proof of his skill by bringing back safely the East Indiamen from Bergen, though a severe storm caused some losses, both to the fleet and the convoy. The damage was however by the energy of De Witt and the admiral quickly repaired; and De Ruyter again sailed out at the beginning of October to seek the English fleet. He cruised in the Channel and off the mouth of the Thames, but no enemy vessels were to be seen; and at the end of the month fresh storms brought the naval campaign of 1665 to a close, on the whole to the advantage of the English.
Nor were the misfortunes of the Dutch confined to maritime warfare. Between England and Holland indeed the war was entirely a sea affair, neither of them possessing an army strong enough to land on the enemy's coast with any hope of success; but the United Provinces were particularly vulnerable on their eastern frontier, and Charles II concluded an alliance with the Bishop of Münster, who had a grievance against the States on account of a disputed border-territory, the lordship of Borkelo. Subsidised by England, the bishop accordingly at the head of 18,000 men (September, 1665) overran a considerable part of Drente and Overyssel and laid it waste. There was at first no organised force to oppose him. It had been the policy of Holland to cut down the army, and the other provinces were not unwilling to follow her example. No field-marshal had been appointed to succeed Brederode; there was no army of the Union under a captain-general, but seven small provincial armies without a military head. Some thousands of fresh troops were now raised and munitions of war collected, but to whom should the chief command be given? William Frederick was dead (October 31, 1664) and had been succeeded by his youthful son, Henry Casimir, in the Stadtholder ate of Friesland. Joan Maurice of Nassau had withdrawn from the Netherlands and was Governor of Cleves in the service of Brandenburg. He was however persuaded to place himself at the head of the army, though complaining bitterly [pg.239] of the inadequacy of the forces placed at his disposal. De Witt, however, had not been idle. He secured the assistance of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and an army of 12,000 Brunswickers under the command of George Frederick von Waldeck attacked Münster; while a force of 6000 French likewise, under the terms of the treaty of 1662, advanced to the help of the Dutch. Threatened also by Brandenburg, the bishop was compelled to withdraw his troops for home defence and in April, 1666, was glad to conclude peace with the States.
French naval co-operation against England was also promised; and war was actually declared by Louis XIV in the early spring of 1666. The real cause of this strong action was due to other motives than enmity to England. The death of Philip IV of Spain in September, 1665, had brought nearer the prospect of there being no heir-male to the vast Spanish monarchy. The French Queen, Maria Theresa, was the eldest child of Philip; and, though on her marriage she had renounced her claim to the Spanish throne, it was well known that Louis intended to insist upon her rights, particularly in regard to the Spanish Netherlands. He was afraid that the States, always suspicious of his ambitious projects, might be tempted to come to terms with England on the basis of a defensive alliance against French aggression in Flanders and Brabant, for both powers were averse to seeing Antwerp in French hands. To avert this danger Louis determined to take part in the war on the side of the Dutch. The move however was diplomatic rather than serious, for the French admiral, de Beaufort, never sailed into the North Sea or effected a junction with the Dutch fleet. Nevertheless, as will be seen, his presence in the Atlantic exercised an important effect upon the naval campaign of 1666.
The English fleet was not ready until the beginning of June. The ravages of the plague and financial difficulties had caused delay; and the fleet only numbered about eighty sail, including a squadron which had been recalled from the Mediterranean. The "Generals-at-Sea," as they were called, were Monk and Rupert. They began by committing the great blunder of dividing their force. Rupert was detached with twenty ships to keep watch over de Beaufort, a diversion which had serious consequences for the English. The Dutch fleet, consisting of seventy-two men-of-war with twelve frigates, was the most powerful that the Admiralties had ever sent to sea, not in numbers but in the quality of the ships. De Witt [pg.240] himself had supervised the preparations and had seen that the equipment was complete in every respect. De Ruyter was in supreme command and led the van, Cornelis Evertsen the centre, Cornelis Tromp the rear. On June 11 the English fleet under Monk was sighted between the North Foreland and Dunkirk, and the famous Four Days' Battle was begun. The English had only fifty-four ships, but having the weather gauge Monk attacked Tromp's squadron with his whole force; nor was it till later in the day that De Ruyter and Evertsen were able to come to the relief of their colleague. Night put an end to an indecisive contest, in which both sides lost heavily. The next day Monk renewed the attack, at first with some success; but, De Ruyter having received a reinforcement of sixteen ships, the weight of numbers told and Monk was forced to retreat. On the third morning De Ruyter pursued his advantage, but the English admiral conducted his retirement in a most masterly manner, his rear squadron covering the main body and fighting stubbornly. Several ships, however, including the flag-ship of Vice-Admiral Ayscue, had to be abandoned and were either destroyed or captured by the Dutch. At the end of the day Monk had only twenty-eight ships left fit for service. Very opportunely he was now rejoined by Rupert's squadron and other reinforcements; and on the fourth morning the two fleets confronted one another in almost equal numbers, each having some sixty vessels. Once more therefore the desperate struggle was resumed and with initial advantage to the English. Rupert forced his way through the Dutch fleet, which was for awhile divided. But the English habit of firing at the hulls, though it did most damage, was not so effective as the Dutch system of aiming at the masts and rigging in crippling the freedom of tacking and manoeuvring; and Monk and Rupert were unable to prevent De Ruyter from re-uniting his whole force, and bearing down with it upon the enemy. The English were forced to retreat again, leaving several of their "lamed" vessels behind. They lost in all ten ships besides fireships, something like 3000 killed and wounded and 2500 prisoners. Vice-Admiral Berkeley was killed, Vice-Admiral Ayscue taken prisoner. Nor were the Dutch much better off. Four or five of their ships were sunk, a number severely damaged, and their casualty list was probably as large as that of their foes. Nevertheless the victory was undoubtedly theirs; and the fleet on its return was greeted with [pg.241] public rejoicings in Holland and Zeeland. The triumph was of short duration.
By vigorous efforts on both sides the damaged fleets were rapidly repaired. De Ruyter was the first to put to sea (July 9) with some ninety ships; three weeks later Monk and Rupert left the Thames with an equal force. The enCounter took place on August 4. It ended in a decisive English victory after some fierce and obstinate fighting. The Dutch van, after losing its two admirals, Evertsen and De Vries, gave way. Monk and Rupert then attacked with a superior force the centre under De Ruyter himself, who to save his fleet from destruction was compelled to take refuge behind the Dutch shoals. Meanwhile the squadron under Tromp, driving before it the rear squadron of the English, had become separated and unable to come to De Ruyter's assistance. For this abandonment he was bitterly reproached by De Ruyter and accused of desertion. The quarrel necessitated Tromp's being deprived of his command, as the States-General could not afford to lose the services of the admiral-in-chief.
For a time the English were now masters of the narrow seas, and, cruising along the Dutch coast, destroyed a great number of Dutch merchantmen, made some rich prizes and even landed on the island of Terschelling, which was pillaged. Lack of supplies at length compelled them to withdraw for the purpose of revictualling. On this De Ruyter, accompanied by Cornelis de Witt as special commissioner, sailed out in the hopes of effecting a junction with De Beaufort. Rupert also put to sea again, but storms prevented a meeting between the fleets and sickness also seriously interfered with their efficiency. De Ruyter himself fell ill; and, though John de Witt was himself with the fleet, no further operations were attempted. Both sides had become weary and exhausted and anxious for peace.
To De Witt the war had been from the outset distasteful; and he had been much disturbed by the constant intrigues of the Orangist party to undermine his position. He was aware that in this hour of the Country's need the eyes of a considerable part of the people, even in Holland, were more and more directed to the young prince. There was a magic in his name, which invested the untried boy with the reflected glory of his ancestor's great deeds. The council-pensionary, a past-master in the arts of expediency, [pg.242] was driven to avert the danger which threatened the supremacy of the States party, by proposing to the Princess Amalia that the province of Holland should not only charge themselves with William's education, but should adopt him as "a Child of State." It was a short-sighted device for, as the princess shrewdly saw, this exceptional position assigned to her grandson must ensure, when he grew to man's estate, the reversion of his ancestral dignities. She willingly assented; and in April, 1666, the Estates of Holland appointed a Commission, of which John de Witt was himself the head, which was entrusted with the religious and political instruction of the prince. A few months later De Witt was to discover that Orangist intrigues were being still clandestinely carried on. An officer of French extraction, the lord of Buat, though an Orange partisan, had been employed by the pensionary to make tentative proposalsof peace to the English court through Lord Arlington. In August a packet of intercepted letters showed that Buat had played him false and was seeking to compass his overthrow. Buat was brought to trial, condemned to death, and executed on October 11.
This strong action by the council-pensionary did not prevent, however, the preliminaries of a peaceful settlement being discussed both at the Hague and in London during the winter months, with the result that a conference of delegates representing Great Britain, the United Provinces and France, met at Breda in May, 1667, to discuss the terms of peace. But the negotiations did not progress. The English envoys raised afresh all the old questions, while the Dutch were not ready to concede anything unless the Navigation Act was largely modified. In these circumstances De Witt determined by bold action to try to expedite the negotiations in a sense favourable to Holland. He knew that the English were unprepared. Charles II, in opposition to the advice of Rupert, Monk and the Duke of York, had refused to spend money in preparation for a campaign at sea, which he felt confident would never take place. The ravages of the plague and of the Great Fire of London had made the year 1666 one of the darkest in English history and had caused the heavy financial drain and losses of the war to be more severely felt. There was widespread discontent in the Country; and the king in sore financial distress was immovable in his resolve that no steps should be taken for refitting the fleet. The ships [pg.243] remained laid up in port, although the Dutch despatched in April a squadron to the Firth of Forth and dominated the Channel.
In deep secrecy De Witt now made preparations for the despatch of a great fleet with orders to sail up the estuary of the Thames and attack the English ships in harbour. De Ruyter, accompanied by Cornelis de Witt, left the Texel on June 14, at the head of a fleet numbering more than eighty vessels. A squadron under Admiral Van Ghent sailed up the Thames on June 19, followed by the main body. Sheerness was captured, and on the 22nd De Ruyter determined to force his way up the Medway. The river had been blocked by drawing up a line of ships behind a heavy chain. The Dutch fire-ships broke through the chain and burnt the vessels, and then proceeding upwards burnt, scuttled or captured some sixteen vessels, among the latter the flag-ship, Royal Charles . The sound of the Dutch guns was heard in London and for a time panic reigned. But the narrowness of the river and the prompt measures that were taken to call out the militia and man the forts prevented any further success. The Dutch fleet withdrew to the Nore and, beyond blocking the mouth of the river, were able to effect no further damage. The blow to English prestige was however irreparable, and the people felt deeply humiliated that short-sightedness and lack of preparation on the part of the government should have exposed them to an insult galling to the national pride. One of its consequences, as had been anticipated by De Witt, was a more conciliatory attitude on the part of the English envoys at Breda. Peace was concluded on July 26, on terms more favourable than the Dutch could have expected. The Navigation Act was modified, various commercial advantages were conceded and Poeloe-Rum was retained. On the other hand, the custom of the striking of the flag remained unchanged. It was agreed that the English colony of Surinam, which had been captured in March, 1667, by a Zeeland squadron should be kept in exchange for New York, an exchange advantageous to both parties.
By the treaty of Breda the Dutch republic attained the summit of its greatness, and the supremacy of De Witt appeared to be not only secure but unassailable. Yet events were preparing which were destined to undermine the prosperity of Holland and the position of the statesman to whom in so large a measure that prosperity was due. France under the absolute rule of Louis XIV had become by [pg.244] far the most powerful State in Europe, and the king was bent upon ambitious and aggressive projects. It has already been explained that after the death of Philip IV of Spain he claimed for his queen, Maria Theresa, the succession, by the so-called "law of devolution," to a large part of the southern Netherlands. He now determined that the hour had come for enforcing his claim. In May, 1667, before the treaty of Breda had been signed, a French army of 50,000 men crossed the Belgic frontier. Castel-Rodrigo, the Spanish governor, had no force at his disposal for resisting so formidable an invasion; fortress after fortress fell into French hands; and Flanders, Brabant and Hainaut were speedily overrun. This rapid advance towards their borders caused no small consternation in Holland, and De Witt's efforts to reach an understanding with King Louis proved unavailing. The States were not in a position to attempt an armed intervention, and the once formidable Spanish power was now feeble and decrepit. The only hope lay in the formation of a coalition. De Witt therefore turned to England and Sweden for help.
The anti-French party in Sweden was then predominant; and Dohna, the Swedish ambassador at the Hague, was ordered to go to London, there to further the efforts of the newly appointed Dutch envoy, John Meerman, for the formation of a coalition to check French aggrandisement. They had difficulties to overcome. The English were sore at the results of the peace of Breda. Charles disliked the Dutch and was personally indebted to Louis XIV for many favours. But the feeling in England was strongly averse to French aggression towards Antwerp. The fall of Clarendon from power at this time and the accession of Arlington, who was son-in-law to Beverweert, turned the scale in favour of the proposalsof De Witt; and Charles found himself obliged to yield. Sir William Temple, whose residence as English minister at Brussels had convinced him of the gravity of the French menace, was ordered to go to the Hague to confer personally with the council-pensionary and then to proceed to London. His mission was most promptly and skilfully carried out. His persuasiveness overcame all obstacles. After a brief stay in London he returned to the Hague, January 17, 1668. Even the proverbial slowness of the complicated machinery of the Dutch government did not hinder him from carrying out his mission with almost miraculous rapidity. Having first secured the full support of De Witt to his proposals, he next, with the aid [pg.245] of the council-pensionary, pressed the urgency of the case upon the States-General with such convincing arguments that the treaty between England and the United Provinces was signed on January 23. Three days afterwards Dohna was able to announce the adhesion of the Swedish government; and on January 26, the Triple Alliance was an accomplished fact. It was essentially a defensive alliance, and its main object was to offer mediation between France and Spain in order to moderate the French claims and to back up their mediation, if necessity should arise, by joint action. As a preliminary precaution, a strong force was promptly placed under the command of Joan Maurice of Nassau, and a fleet of forty-eight ships was fitted out.
These steps had their effect. Louis, suddenly confronted by this formidable coalition, preferred to accept mediation, though it involved his waiving a portion of his pretensions. Knowing well that the alliance was a very unstable one, for the consent of Charles was given under duress and the aims of Sweden were mercenary, he foresaw that by biding his time, he could have ample revenge later upon the republic of traders who had ventured to thwart him. At a meeting at St Germain-en-Laye between the French Foreign Minister, Lionne, and the Dutch and English ambassadors, Van Beuningen and Trevor, preliminaries were settled on April 15. These were confirmed by a conference of representatives of all the interested States at Aix-la-Chapelle (May 2), in which Temple took an active part. Louis gave up Franche-Comté, which he had conquered, but retained Mons, Courtrai, Tournai, Lille, Charleroi and other frontier towns. This treaty, following on that of Breda, was the crowning triumph of De Witt's administration, for it had given to the Dutch Republic a decisive voice in the Councils of the Great Powers of Europe.
But, though he had proved himself so successful in the fields of diplomacy and statesmanship, the position of the council-pensionary had, during the course of the English war, become distinctly weaker. De Witt's authoritative ways, his practical monopoly of power, and his bestowal of so many posts upon his relatives and friends, aroused considerable jealousy and irritation. Cabals began to be formed against him and old supporters to fall away. He lost the help of Van Beverningh, who resigned the office of Treasurer-General, and he managed to estrange Van Beuningen, who had [pg.246] much influence in Amsterdam. The Bickers and De Graeffs were no longer supreme in that city, where a new party under the leadership of Gillis Valckenier had acceded to power. This party, with which Van Beuningen now associated himself, was at present rather anti-De Witt than pro-Orange. Valckenier and Beuningen became in succession burgomasters; and De Witt's friend, Pietsser de Groot, had to resign the office of pensionary. In the Estates of Holland, therefore, De Witt had to face opposition, one of the leaders being the able Pensionary of Haarlem, Caspar Fagel. And all this time he had ever before his eyes the fact that the Prince of Orange could not much longer remain "the Child of State"; and that, when he passed out of the tutelage of the Estates of Holland, his future position would have to be settled. De Witt had himself devoted much personal care to William's instruction; and the prince had submitted patiently and apparently with contentment to the restrictions with which he was surrounded. Physically weakly, his health was at all times delicate, but his intelligence was remarkable and his will-power extraordinary. Cold and impenetrable in manner and expression, unbending in his haughty aloofness, he knew how with perfect courtesy to keep his own counsel and to refrain from giving utterance to an unguarded word. But behind this chilling and sphinx-like exterior was a mind of singular precocity, already filled with deep-laid schemes and plans for the future, confident that his opportunity would come, and preparing when the hour struck to seize it. One can well imagine how anxiously in their many personal interviews the council-pensionary must have tried to read what was passing in his pupil's inmost thoughts, only to be baffled.
So early as August, 1667, steps had been taken by the Estates of Holland to forestall the danger that threatened. On the proposal of Van Beuningen and Valckenier, who had not yet detached themselves from the States party, an edict was passed to which, somewhat infelicitously, the name of the "Eternal Edict" was given. It abolished in Holland the office of Stadtholder for ever and affirmed the right of the town-corporations ( vroedschappen ) to elect their own magistrates. It was further resolved to invite the other provinces to declare that no Stadtholder could hold either the captain-or admiral-generalship of the Union. This resolution was styled the "Concept of Harmony." Deputations were sent to urge the acceptation of the Concept; and De Witt himself used [pg.247] his utmost power of persuasion to bring about a general agreement. He was successful in Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel. But Zeeland, Friesland and Groningen, where the Orangists were strong, refused to give their assent; and the approval of the States-General was only carried by a bare majority. De Witt himself doubtless knew that the erection of this paper barrier against the inherited influence of one bearing the honoured title of Prince of Orange was of little real value. It is reported that Vivien, the Pensionary of Dordrecht, De Witt's cousin, stuck his pen-knife into a copy of the Eternal Edict as it lay on the table before him, and in reply to a remonstrance said: "I was only trying what steel can do against parchment."
The second period of five years during which De Witt had held the post of council-pensionary was now drawing to an end. For a decade he had wielded a power which had given to him almost supreme authority in the republic, especially in the control of foreign affairs. But all the time he had lived the life of a simple burgher, plainly dressed, occupying the same modest dwelling-house, keeping only a single manservant. He was devotedly attached to his wife and children, and loved to spend the hours he could spare from public affairs in the domestic circle. The death of Wendela on July 1, 1668, was a great blow to him and damped the satisfaction which must have filled him at the manner in which he was reelected at the end of that month to enter upon his third period of office. In recognition of his great services his salary of 6000 guilders was doubled, and a gratuity of 45,000 guilders was voted to him, to which the nobles added a further sum of 15,000 guilders. De Witt again obtained an Act of Indemnity from the Estates of Holland and likewise the promise of a judicial post on his retirement.
The Prince of Orange had received the announcement of the passing of the Eternal Edict without showing the slightest emotion, or making any protest. He now, two months after the re-election of the council-pensionary, took the first step towards self-assertion. Under cover of a visit to his ancestral town of Breda, William made his way to Middelburg, where the Estates of Zeeland were assembled. Being now eighteen years of age he claimed his inherited right to take his seat as "first noble," and after being duly installed he appointed his relative, Seigneur van Odijk, to act as his deputy. [pg.248] This done, he quietssly returned to the Hague, having given a clear indication of the course he meant to pursue.
The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle had left a deep feeling of humiliation and rancour in the heart of Louis XIV; and he was resolved to leave no stone unturned to wreak his vengeance on Holland and its council-pensionary. The Triple Alliance was plainly an ill-assorted combination. Charles II cared nothing about the fate of the Spanish Netherlands, and there was a strong party in England which hated the Dutch and wished to wipe out the memory of Chatham and to upset the treaty of Breda. Grievances about the settlement of questions concerning the East Indies and Surinam were raked up. Both Van Beuningen in London and Pietsser de Groot in Paris sent warnings that the States should be prepared for war and at an early date, but the council-pensionary pinned his faith on Temple and the Alliance, and kept his eyes shut to the imminent danger. Meanwhile Louis had been bribing freely both in England and Sweden, and he had no difficulty in detaching the latter power from the Alliance. To England he sent over the beautiful Henrietssta, Duchess of Orleans, Charles' favourite sister, on a secret mission to the king, and she was speedily successful. The offer of an annual payment of 3,000,000 francs and the possession of Walcheren, which commanded the entrance to the Scheldt, effected their purpose. A secret treaty was signed at Dover on December 31, 1670, between Louis and Charles, by which the latter agreed, on being called upon to do so, to declare war upon Holland in conjunction with the French.
Meanwhile De Witt was so absorbed in domestic politics and in the maintenance of the burgher-aristocratic party in power, that he seemed to have lost his usual statesmanlike acumen. He never ceased to work for the general acceptance of the Concept of Harmony. At last the three recalcitrant provinces (Friesland, Groningen and Zeeland), when William had reached his twenty-first year, agreed to accept it on condition that the prince were at once admitted to the Council of State. Even now De Witt tried to prevent the prince from having more than an advisory vote, but he was overruled through the opposition of Amsterdam to his views. All this time Louis was preparing his great plan for the crushing of the republic. He succeeded in gaining the promised assistance of England, Münster and Cologne, and in detaching from the Dutch [pg.249] the Emperor and the Swedes. The finances under Colbert were in a flourishing state, and a splendid army had been equipped by the great war minister, Louvois. It was in vain that Pietsser de Groot sent warnings of coming peril. The council-pensionary was deaf, and the States-General still deafer. Temple had left (August, 1670) for a visit to London, and he never returned. For some months there was no resident English ambassador at the Hague. Finally, at the end of the year, Downing arrived, the very man who had done his utmost to bring about the war of 1665. De Witt still placed his hopes in the anti-French views of the English Parliament; but in August, 1671, it was dissolved by the king and was not summoned to meet again for a year and a half. Charles had therefore a free-hand, and the secret treaty of Dover was the result. The reports of De Groot became more and more alarming; and De Witt found it necessary to urge the States to make preparations both by sea and land to resist attack. But he met with a luke-warm response. The fleet indeed was considerably strengthened, but the army was in a miserable state. At no time during the English wars had a powerful army been required, and the lesson taught by the invasion of the Bishop of Münster had had little effect. The heavy charges of the naval war compelled the States and especially Holland, on whom the chief burden fell, to economise by cutting down the military expenses. Politically also the ruling burgher-regents in Holland had from past experience a wholesome fear lest the power of the sword wielded by another Maurice or William II should again overthrow the civil power. The consequence was that when Charles II declared war on March 28, 1672, and Louis on the following April 6, and a great French army of 120,000 men under Condé, Turenne and Luxemburg marched through Liege to invade the States, while another army of 30,000 men from Münster and Cologne attacked farther north, all was confusion and panic, for it was felt that there was no possibility of effective resistance. The Bishop of Münster was eager to take vengeance for his defeat in 1666, and the Elector-Archbishop of Cologne was a Bavarian prince friendly to France. His help was the more valuable, as he was likewise Bishop of Liège, and thus able to offer to the French armies a free passage through his territory.
Not until the storm was actually bursting on them by sea and land at once were the various authorities in the threatened land [pg.250] induced to move in earnest. Confronted by the sudden crisis, De Witt however made the most strenuous efforts to meet it. A fleet of 150 ships was got ready and an army of some 50,000 men, mercenaries of many nationalities, hastily gathered together. It was a force without cohesion, discipline or competent officers. In the peril of the Country all eyes were turned towards the Prince of Orange. William was now twenty-one years of age, but by the provisions of the Concept of Harmony his name was not to be proposed as captain-general until he had reached the age of twenty-two. But in the wave of feeling which swept over the Country the paper barrier was dashed aside. In the Estates of Holland, which De Witt had so long controlled, and despite his strong opposition, the proposal to confer the post on William for one year was carried. All that the council-pensionary could effect was to surround the exercise of the office with so many restrictions as to deprive the prince of any real authority. These restrictions did not, however, meet the approval of the other provinces, and William himself refused to accept them. De Witt had to give way. William was appointed captain-general for one year (February 25, 1672). It appeared to be an absolutely hopeless task that this utterly inexperienced young man had to face. But the mere fact that once more a Prince of Orange was in command gave new hope. It was a name to conjure with; and the holder of it, young as he was and with no previous military training, faced his task with the calm confidence which comes from conscious power and an inherited aptitude for the leadership of men.