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Upon the death of Frederick Henry of Orange (March, 1647), his only son succeeded to his titles and estates and also by virtue of the Act of Survivance to the offices of Stadtholder in six provinces and to the Captain-Generalship and Admiral-Generalship of the Union. William was but twenty-one years of age and, having been excluded during Frederick Henry's lifetime from taking any active part in affairs of state, he had turned his energies into the pursuit of pleasure, and had been leading a gay and dissolute life. His accession to power was, however, speedily to prove that he was possessed of great abilities, a masterful will and a keen and eager ambition. He had strongly disapproved of the trend of the peace negotiations at Münster, and would have preferred with the help of the French to have attempted to drive the Spaniards out of the southern Netherlands. The preliminaries were, however, already settled in the spring of 1647; and the determination of the province of Holland and especially of the town of Amsterdam to conclude an advantageous peace with Spain and to throw over France rendered the opposition of the young Stadtholder unavailing. But William, though he had perforce to acquiesce in the treaty of Münster, was nevertheless resolved at the earliest opportunity to undo it. Thus from the outset he found himself in a pronounced antagonism with the province of Holland, which could only issue in a struggle for supremacy similar to that with which his uncle Maurice was confronted in the years that followed the truce of 1609, and, to a less degree, his father after 1640.

Commerce was the predominant interest of the burgher-aristocracies who held undisputed sway in the towns of Holland; and they, under the powerful leadership of Amsterdam, were anxious that the peace they had secured should not be disturbed. They looked forward to lightening considerably the heavy load of taxation which burdened them, by reducing the number of troops [pg.203] and of ships of war maintained by the States. To this policy the young prince was resolutely opposed, and he had on his side the prestige of his name and a vast body of popular support even in Holland itself, among that great majority of the inhabitants, both of town and Country, who were excluded from all share in government and administration and were generally Orangist in sympathy. He had also with him the officers of the army and navy and the preachers. His chief advisers were his cousin William Frederick, Stadtholder of Friesland, and Cornelis van Aerssens (son of Francis) lord of Sommelsdijk. By the agency of Sommelsdijk he put himself in secret communication with Count d'Estrades, formerly French ambassador at the Hague, now Governor of Dunkirk, and through him with Mazarin, with the view of concluding an alliance with France for the conquest of the Spanish Netherlands, and for sending a joint expedition to England to overthrow the Parliamentary forces and establish the Stewarts on the throne. Mazarin was at this time, however, far too much occupied by his struggle with the Fronde to listen to the overtures of a young man who had as yet given no proof of being in a position to give effect to his ambitious proposals. Nevertheless the prince was in stern earnest. In April, 1648, his brother-in-law, James, Duke of York, had taken refuge at the Hague, and was followed in July by the Prince of Wales. William received them with open arms and, urged on by his wife, the Princess Royal, and by her aunt the exiled Queen of Bohemia, who with her family was still residing at the Hague, he became even more eager to assist in effecting a Stewart restoration than in renewing the war with Spain. The difficulties in his way were great. In 1648 public opinion in the States on the whole favoured the Parliamentary cause. But, when the Parliament sent over Dr Doreslaer and Walter Strickland as envoys to complain of royal ships being allowed to use Dutch harbours, the States-General, through the influence of the prince, refused them an audience. The Estates of Holland on this gave a signal mark of their independence and antagonism by receiving Doreslaer and forbidding the royal squadron to remain in any of the waters of the Province.

The news of the trial of King Charles for high-treason brought about a complete revulsion of feeling. The Prince of Wales himself in person begged the States-General to intervene on his father's [pg.204] behalf; and the proposal met with universal approval. It was at once agreed that Adrian Pauw, the now aged leader of the anti-Orange party in Holland, should go to London to intercede for the king's life. He was courteously received on January 26 o.s., and was granted an audience by the House of Commons, but the decision had already been taken and his efforts were unavailing. The execution of the king caused a wave of horror to sweep over the Netherlands, and an address of condolence was offered by the States-General to the Prince of Wales; but, to meet the wishes of the delegates of Holland, he was addressed not as King of Great Britain, but simply as King Charles II, and it was agreed that Joachimi, the resident ambassador in London, should not be recalled at present. The new English Government on their part sent over once more Dr Doreslaer with friendly proposals for drawing the two republics into closer union. Doreslaer, who had taken part in the trial of Charles I, was specially obnoxious to the royalist exiles, who had sought refuge in Holland. He landed on May 9. Three days later he was assassinated as he was dining at his hotel. The murderers, five or six in number, managed to make their escape and were never apprehended.

Although highly incensed by this outrage, the English Government did not feel itself strong enough to take decided action. The Estates of Holland expressed through Joachimi their abhorrence at what had occurred; and the Parliament instructed Strickland to approach the States-General again with friendly advances. The States-General refused to grant him an audience, while receiving the envoy despatched by Charles II from Scotland to announce his accession. The English Council of State had no alternative but to regard this as a deliberate insult. Strickland was recalled and left Holland, July 22. On September 26 Joachimi was ordered to leave London. The breach between the two Countries seemed to be complete, but the Estates of Holland, who for the sake of their commerce dreaded the thought of a naval war, did all in their power to work for an accommodation. They received Strickland in a public audience before his departure, and they ventured to send a special envoy to Whitehall, Gerard Schaep, January 22, to treat with the Parliament. By this action the Provincial Estates flouted the authority of the States-General and entered into negotiations on their own account, as if they were an independent State. The [pg.205] Hollanders were anxious to avoid war almost at any price, but circumstances proved too strong for them.

In order to carry out this pacifist policy the Estates of Holland now resolved to effect a large reduction of expenditure by disbanding a portion of the troops and ships. When the peace of Münster was signed the States possessed an army of 60,000 men, and all parties were agreed that this large force might safely be reduced. In July 1648, a drastic reduction was carried out, twenty-five thousand men being disbanded. The Estates of Holland, however, demanded a further retrenchment of military charges, but met with the strong opposition of the Prince and his cousin William Frederick, who declared that an army of at least 30,000 was absolutely necessary for garrisoning the frontier fortresses and safeguarding the Country against hostile attack. Their views had the support of all the other provinces, but Holland was obdurate. In Holland commerce reigned supreme; and the burgher-regents and merchants were suspicious of the prince's warlike designs and were determined to thwart them. Finding that the States-General refused to disband at their dictation some fifty-five companies of the excellent foreign troops who formed the kernel of the States' army, the Provincial Estates proceeded to take matters into their own hands, and discharged a body of 600 foreign troops which were paid by the Province. In doing this they were acting illegally. The old question of the sovereign rights of the Provinces, which had been settled in 1619 by the sword of Maurice, was once more raised. The States-General claimed to exercise the sole authority in military matters. There were not seven armies in the Union, but one army under the supreme command of the captain-general appointed by the States-General. The captain-general was now but a young and inexperienced man, but he had none of the hesitation and indecision shown by his uncle Maurice in the troubles of 1618-19, and did not shrink from the conflict with the dominant province to which he was challenged.

For some time, indeed, wrangling went on. There was a strong minority in the Estates of Holland opposed to extreme measures; and the council-pensionary, Jacob Cats, was a moderate man friendly to the House of Orange. An accommodation was reached on the subject of the disbanding of the 600 foreign troops, but the conflict was renewed, and in the middle of 1650 it assumed grave [pg.206] proportions. The heart and soul of the opposition to the prince was Amsterdam. William had for some time been urged by his Friesland cousin to take action, since the attitude of Amsterdam threatened the dissolution of the Union. The prince was at this time engaged in negotiating with France, but nothing had as yet been settled, and his projects were not ripe for execution. Nevertheless it was absolutely necessary for their realisation that the military forces should not be excessively reduced. Under his influence the States-General decided that, though the number of troops in the several regiments should be decreased, the cadres of all regiments with their full quota of officers should be retained. To this the Estates of Holland dissented, and finding that they could not prevail, they determined on a daring step. Orders were sent (June 1, 1650) to the colonels of the regiments on the Provincial war-sheet to disband their regiments on pain of stoppage of pay. The colonels refused to take any orders save from the Council of State and the captain-general. The prince accordingly, with William Frederick and the Council of State, appeared in the States-General and appealed to them to uphold the colonels in their refusal. There could be no question that the Estates of Holland were hopelessly in the wrong, for their representatives in the States-General had in 1623,1626,1630 and 1642 voted for the enforcement on recalcitrant provinces of the full quota at which they were assessed for the payment of the army of the Union. The States-General, June 5, therefore determined to send a "notable deputation" to the towns of Holland. The prince was asked to head the deputation, the members of which were to be chosen by him; and he was invested with practically dictatorial powers to take measures for the keeping of the peace and the maintenance of the Union. In doing this the Generality were themselves acting ultra vires . The States-General was an assembly consisting of the representatives of the Provincial Estates. It could deal or treat therefore only with the Estates of the several provinces, not with the individual towns within a province. In resisting the interference of the Estates of Holland with matters that concerned the Union as a whole, they were themselves infringing, by the commission given to the "notable deputation," the jurisdiction of the Provincial Estates over their own members.

The prince set out on June 8, and visited all the "privileged"  [pg.207] towns. The result was more than disappointing. The Council of the premier municipality, Dordrecht, set the example by declaring that they were answerable only to the Estates of the Province. Schiedam, Alkmaar, Edam and Monnikendam gave the same reply. Delft and Haarlem were willing to receive the prince as Stadtholder , but not the deputation. Amsterdam, under the influence of the brothers Andries and Cornelis Bicker, went even further and after some parleying declined to admit either the deputation or the prince. On June 25 William returned to the Hague bitterly chagrined by his reception and determined to crush resistance by force.

The stroke he planned was to seize the representatives of six towns which had been specially obstinate in their opposition, and at the same time to occupy Amsterdam with an armed force. His preparations were quickly made. On July 30 an invitation was sent to Jacob de Witt, ex-burgomaster of Dordrecht, and five other prominent members of the Estates of Holland, to visit the prince. On their arrival they were arrested by the Stadtholder 's guard, and carried off as prisoners to the Castle of Loevestein. William had meanwhile left the execution of the coup-de-main against Amsterdam to his cousin William Frederick. The arrangements for gathering together secretly a large force from various garrisons were skilfully made, and it was intended at early dawn to seize unexpectedly one of the gates, and then to march in and get possession of the town without opposition. The plan, however, accidentally miscarried. Some of the troops in the night having lost their way, attracted the notice of a postal messenger on his way to Amsterdam, who reported their presence to the burgomaster, Cornelis Bicker. Bicker at once took action. The gates were closed, the council summoned, and vigorous measures of defence taken. William Frederick therefore contented himself with surrounding the city, so as to prevent ingress or egress from the gates. On the next morning, July 31, William, having learnt that the surprise attack had failed, set out for Amsterdam, determined to compel its surrender. The council, fearing the serious injury a siege would cause to its commerce, opened negotiations (August 1). The prince, however, insisting on unconditional submission, no other course was open. Amsterdam undertook to offer no further opposition to the proposalsof the States-General, and was compelled to agree to the humiliating [pg.208] demand of the Stadtholder that the brothers Bicker should not only resign their posts in the municipal government, but should be declared ineligible for any official position in the future.

The Prince of Orange had now secured the object at which he had aimed. His authority henceforth rested on a firm basis. His opponents had been overthrown and humiliated. The Estates of six provinces thanked him for the success of his efforts, and he on his part met the general wish for economy by agreeing to a reduction of the foreign troops in the pay of the States on the distinct understanding that only the States-General had the right to disband any portion of the forces, not the provincial paymasters. In the flush of triumph William at the end of August left the Hague for his Country seat at Dieren, nominally for hunting and for rest, in reality to carry on secret negotiations with France for the furtherance of his warlike designs. The complete defeat of Charles II at the battle of Worcester, September 3, must have been a severe blow to his hopes for the restoration of the Stuarts, but it did not deter him from pursuing his end. With d'Estrades, now Governor of Dunkirk, the prince secretly corresponded, and through him matters were fully discussed with the French Government. In a letter written from the Hague on October 2, William expressed a strong wish that d'Estrades should come in person to visit him; and it was the intention of d'Estrades to accept this invitation as soon as he had received from Paris the copy of a draft-treaty, which was being prepared. This draft-treaty, which was probably drawn up by Mazarin, reached d'Estrades in the course of October, but circumstantial evidence proves that it was never seen by William. Its provisions were as follows. Both Powers were to declare war on Spain and attack Flanders and Antwerp. The Dutch were to besiege Antwerp, which city, if taken, was to become the personal appanage of the Prince, of Orange. When the Spanish power in the southern Netherlands had been overthrown, then France and the United Provinces were to send a joint expedition to England to place Charles II on the throne. Whether the prince would have approved these proposals we know not; in all probability he would have declined to commit himself to a plan of such a far-reaching and daring character, for he was aware of the limitations of his power, and knew that even his great influence would have been insufficient to obtain the consent of the States-General to an immediate [pg.209] renewal of war. Speculation however is useless, for an inexorable fate raised other issues.

On October 8 the Stadtholder returned to Dieren, on the 27th he fell ill with an attack of small-pox. He was at once taken back to the Hague and for some days he progressed favourably, but the illness suddenly took a turn for the worse and he expired on November 6. The news of the prince's death fell like a shock upon the Country. Men could scarcely believe their ears. William was only 24 years old; and, though his wife gave birth to a son a week later, he left no heir capable of succeeding to the high offices that he had held. The event was the more tragic, following, as it did, so swiftly upon the coup d'état of the previous summer, and because of the youth and high promise of the deceased prince. William II was undoubtedly endowed with high and brilliant qualities of leadership, and he had proved his capacity for action with unusual decision and energy. Had his life not been cut short, the course of European politics might have been profoundly changed.

As was to be expected, the burgher-regents of Holland, when once the first shock was over, lost no time in taking advantage of the disappearance of the man who had so recently shown that he possessed the power of the sword and meant to be their master. The States-General at once met and requested the Provincial Estates to take steps to deal with the situation. The Estates of Holland proposed that an extraordinary assembly should be summoned. This was agreed to by the States-General; and "the Great Assembly" met on January 11, 1651. In the meantime the Holland regents had been acting. The Estates of that province were resolved to abolish the Stadtholder ates and to press the States-General to suspend the offices of Captain-and Admiral-General of the Union. Utrecht, Gelderland, Overyssel and Zeeland were induced to follow their example. Groningen, however, elected William Frederick of Friesland to be Stadtholder in the place of his cousin.

The "States party" in Holland had for their leaders the aged Adrian Pauw, who had for so many years been the moving spirit of the opposition in powerful Amsterdam to Frederick Henry's authority, and Jacob de Witt, the imprisoned ex-burgomaster of Dordrecht. The "Orange party" was for the moment practically impotent. Stunned by the death of their youthful chief, they were [pg.210] hopelessly weakened and disorganised by the dissensions and rivalries which surrounded the cradle of the infant Prince of Orange. The princess royal quarrelled with her mother-in-law, Amalia von Solms, over the guardianship of the child. Mary asserted her right to be sole guardian; the dowager-princess wished to have her son-in-law, the Elector of Brandenburg, associated with her as co-guardian. After much bickering the question was at last referred to the Council of State, who appointed the princess royal, the dowager-princess and the elector jointly to the office. This decision however was far from effecting a reconciliation between the mother and the grandmother. Mary did not spare the Princess Amalia the humiliation of knowing that she regarded her as inferior in rank and social standing to the eldest daughter of a King of England. There was rivalry also between the male relatives William Frederick, Stadtholder of Friesland, and Joan Maurice, the "Brazilian," both of them being ambitious of filling the post of captain-general, either in succession to the dead prince, or as lieutenant in the name of his son. In these circumstances a large number of the more moderate Orangists were ready to assist the "States party" in preventing any breach of the peace and securing that the government of the republic should be carried on, if not in the manner they would have wished, at least on stable and sound lines, so far as possible in accordance with precedent.

The Great Assembly met on January 11,1651, in the Count's Hall in the Binnenhof at the Hague. The sittings lasted until September, for there were many important matters to be settled on which the representatives of the seven provinces were far from being in entire agreement. The chief controversies centred around the interpretation of the Utrecht Act of Union, the Dordrecht principles, and military affairs. The last-named proved the most thorny. The general result was decentralisation, and the strengthening of the Provincial Estates at the expense of the States-General. It was agreed that the established religion should be that formulated at Dordrecht, that the sects should be kept in order, and the placards against Roman Catholicism enforced. In accordance with the proposal of Holland there was to be no captain-or admiral-general. Brederode, with the rank of field-marshal, was placed at the head of the army. The Provincial Estates were entrusted with considerable powers over the troops in their pay. The effect of this, and of the decision of [pg.211] five provinces to dispense with a Stadtholder and to transfer his power and prerogatives to the Estates, was virtually the establishment in permanent authority of a number of close municipal corporations. It meant the supersession alike of monarchy and popular government, both of which were to a certain extent represented by the authority vested in, and the influence exerted by, the Stadtholder princes of Orange, in favour of a narrow oligarchic rule. Moreover, in this confederation of seven semi-sovereign provinces, Holland, which contributed to the strength, the finances and the commerce of the Union more than all the other provinces added together, obtained now, in the absence of an "eminent head," that position of predominance, during the Stadtholder less period which now follows, for which its statesmen had so long striven. When the amiable Jacob Cats, the Council-Pensionary of Holland, closed the Great Assembly in a flowery speech describing the great work that it had accomplished, a new chapter in the history of the republic may be said to have begun.


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