- Written by L.C.Geerts
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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 RISE OF JOHN DE WITT.
THE FIRST ENGLISH WAR
Before the sittings of the Great Assembly had come to an end, a young statesman, destined to play the leading part in the government of the Dutch republic during two decades, had already made his mark. After the death of William II Jacob de Witt was not only reinstated in his former position at Dordrecht but on December 21, 1650, John, his younger son, at the age of 25 years was appointed pensionary of that town. In this capacity he was ex officio spokesman of the deputation sent to represent Dordrecht in the Great Assembly. His knowledge, his readiness and persuasiveness of speech, his industry and his gifts at once of swift insight and orderly thoroughness, quickly secured for him a foremost place both in the deliberations of the Assembly and in the conduct of the negotiations with the English Parliament, which at this time required very delicate handling.
The many disputes, which had arisen between England and the United Provinces during the period between the accession of James I and the battle of the Downs in 1639, had never been settled. The minds of Englishmen were occupied with other and more pressing matters while the Civil War lasted. But the old sores remained open. Moreover the refusal of the States-General to receive the Parliamentary envoys, the murder of Doreslaer, and the protection afforded to royalist refugees, had been additional causes of resentment; but the English Council had not felt strong enough to take action. The death of the Prince of Orange, following so quickly upon the complete overthrow of Charles II at Worcester, appeared at first to open out a prospect of friendlier relations between the two neighbouring republics. In January, 1651, the Great Assembly formally recognised the Commonwealth and determined to send back to his old post in London the veteran ambassador, Joachimi, who had been recalled. The English government on their part anticipated his return by despatching, in March, Oliver St John and Walter Strickland on a special [pg.213] embassy to the Hague. They reached that city on March 27, 1651, and presented their credentials to the Great Assembly two days later. Their reception in the streets was anything but favourable. The feeling among the populace was predominantly Orangist and Stewart; and St John and Strickland, greeted with loud cries of "regicides" and many abusive epithets, remembering the fate of Doreslaer, were in fear of their lives.
On April 4 a conference was opened between the envoys and six commissioners appointed by the States to consider the proposalsof the English Government for "a more strict and intimate alliance and union" between the two states. The Dutch quickly perceived that what the English really wanted was nothing less than such a binding alliance or rather coalition as would practically merge the lesser state in the greater. But the very idea of such a loss of the independence that they had only just won was to the Netherlanders unthinkable. The negotiations came to a deadlock. Meanwhile St John and Strickland continued to have insults hurled at them by Orangists and royalist refugees, foremost amongst them Prince Edward, son of the Queen of Bohemia. The Parliament threatened to recall the envoys, but consented that they should remain, on the undertaking of the Estates of Holland to protect them from further attacks, and to punish the offenders. New proposals were accordingly made for an offensive and defensive alliance (without any suggestion of a union), coupled with the condition that both States should bind themselves not to allow the presence within their boundaries of avowed enemies of the other—in other words the expulsion of the members and adherents of the house of Stewart, including the princess royal and the Queen of Bohemia with their children. In the face of the strong popular affection for the infant Prince of Orange and his mother, even the Estates of Holland dared not consider such terms, and the States-General would have angrily rejected them. After some further parleying therefore about fisheries and trade restrictions, it was felt that no agreement could be reached; and St John and Strickland returned to England on July 31, 1651.
Their failure created a very bad impression upon the Parliament. All the old complaints against the Dutch were revived; and, as they had refused the offer of friendship that had been made to them, it was resolved that strong measures should be taken to obtain redress for past grievances and for the protection of English trade interests. [pg.214]
At the instance of St John, the famous Navigation Act was passed by the Parliament, October 9, 1651. This Act struck a mortal blow at the Dutch carrying trade by forbidding the importation of foreign goods into English ports except in English bottoms, or in those of the Countries which had produced the goods. Scarcely less injurious was the prohibition to aliens to fish in British waters, and the withdrawal of the rights based on the Magnus Intercursus , for the maintenance of which Dutch statesmen had so long and strenuously fought. There was consternation in Holland, and the States-General determined to send a special embassy to London. At the same time the Estates of Holland replaced Jacob Cats by appointing the aged Adrian Pauw, a man in whose ripe judgment they had confidence, to the office of council-pensionary. The chosen envoys were Jacob Cats and Gerard Schaep from Holland, Paulus van der Perre from Zeeland, all three representative of the two maritime and trading provinces. They arrived in England on December 27, 1651. Their instructions were to secure the withdrawal of the Navigation Act and to try to negotiate a new treaty of commerce on the basis of the Magnus Intercursus . They were also to protest strongly against the action of English privateers, who, having been given letters of marque to prey upon French commerce, had been stopping and searching Dutch merchantmen on the ground that they might be carrying French goods. The English government, however, met the Dutch complaints by raking up the long list of grievances that had stirred up a bitter feeling of popular hatred against the United Provinces in England, and by demanding reparation. They further demanded that Dutch commanders should acknowledge England's sovereignty by striking flag and sail and by firing a salute, whenever any of their squadrons met English ships "in the narrow seas."
It was these last two questions, the right of search and the striking of the flag, that were to be the real causes of the outbreak of a war that was desired by neither of the two governments. But popular feeling and the course of events was too strong for them. The news of the seizure of their vessels, not merely by privateers, but by an English squadron under Ayscue in the West Indies, had caused intense indignation and alarm in Holland, and especially in Amsterdam. Pressure was brought to bear on the States-General and the Admiralties, who in pursuance of economy had reduced the [pg.215] fleet to seventy-five ships. It was resolved therefore, on February 22, to fit out an additional 150 vessels. The Council of State, on hearing of this, began also to make ready for eventualities. Negotiations were still proceeding between the two Countries, when Martin Tromp, the victor of the battle of the Downs, now lieutenant-admiral of Holland, was sent to sea with fifty ships and instructions to protect Dutch merchantmen from interference, and to see that the States suffered no affront. Nothing was actually said about the striking of the flag.
The situation was such that an armed collision was almost certain to happen with such an admiral as Tromp in command. It came suddenly through a misunderstanding. The Dutch admiral while cruising past Dover met, on May 29, fifteen English ships under Blake. The latter fired a warning shot across the bows of Tromp's ship to signify that the flag should be struck. Tromp declared that he had given orders to strike the flag, but that Blake again fired before there was time to carry them out. Be this as it may, the two fleets were soon engaged in a regular fight, and, the English being reinforced, Tromp withdrew at nightfall to the French coast, having lost two ships. Great was the anger aroused in England, where the Dutch were universally regarded as the aggressors. In the Netherlands, where the peace party was strong, many were disposed to blame Tromp despite his protests. Adrian Pauw himself left hastily for London, John de Witt being appointed to act as his deputy during his absence. Pauw's strenuous efforts however to maintain peace were all in vain, despite the strong leanings of Cromwell towards a peaceful solution. But popular feeling on both sides was now aroused. The States-General, fearing that the Orangists would stir up a revolt, if humiliating terms were submitted to, stiffened their attitude. The result was that the envoys left London on June 30, 1652; and war was declared.
The Dutch statesmen who sought to avoid hostilities were right. All the advantages were on the side of their enemies. The Dutch merchant-fleets covered the seas, and the welfare of the land depended on commerce. The English had little to lose commercially. Their war-fleet too, though inferior in the number of ships, was superior in almost all other respects. The Stuarts had devoted great attention to the fleet and would have done more but for lack of means. Charles' much abused ship-money was employed by him for the [pg.216] creation of the first English professional navy. It had been largely increased by the Parliament after 1648; and its "generals," Blake, Penn and Ayscue, had already acquired much valuable experience in their enCounters with the royalist squadron under Prince Rupert, and in long cruises to the West Indies for the purpose of forcing the English colonies to acknowledge parliamentary rule. The crews therefore were well trained, and the ships were larger, stronger and better armed than those of the Dutch. The position of England, lying as it did athwart the routes by which the Dutch merchant-fleets must sail, was a great advantage. Even more important was the advantage of having a central control, whereas in the Netherlands there were five distinct Boards of Admiralty, to some extent jealous of each other, and now lacking the supreme direction of an admiral-general.
The war began by a series of English successes and of Dutch misfortunes. Early in July, 1652, Blake at the head of sixty ships set sail for the north to intercept the Dutch Baltic commerce, and to destroy their fishing fleet off the north of Scotland. He left Ayscue with a small squadron to guard the mouth of the Thames. Tromp meanwhile had put to sea at the head of nearly a hundred ships. Ayscue succeeded in intercepting a fleet of Dutch merchantmen near Calais, all of them being captured or burnt, while Blake with the main force off the north coast of Scotland destroyed the Dutch fishing fleet and their convoy. After these first blows against the enemy's commerce good fortune continued to attend the English. Tromp was prevented from following Blake by strong northerly winds. He then turned upon Ayscue, whose small force he must have overwhelmed, but for a sudden change to a southerly gale. The Dutch admiral now sailed northwards and (July 25) found the English fleet off the Shetlands. A violent storm arose, from the force of which Blake was protected, while the Dutch vessels were scattered far and wide. On the following day, out of ninety-nine ships Tromp could only collect thirty-five, and had no alternative but to return home to refit.
Before Tromp's return another Dutch fleet under Michael de Ruyter had put to sea to escort a number of outward-bound merchantmen through the Channel, and to meet and convoy back the home-coming ships. He had twenty-three warships and three fireships under his command. Ayscue had previously sailed up [pg.217] Channel with forty men-of-war and five fireships for a similar purpose. The two fleets met on August 16, and despite his inferiority of force De Ruyter forced Ayscue to withdraw into Plymouth, and was able to bring his convoy home to safety.
The ill-success of Tromp, though he was in no way to blame for it, caused considerable alarm and discontent in Holland. His enemies of the States party in that province took advantage of it to suspend the gallant old seaman from his command. He was an Orangist; and, as the Orange partisans were everywhere clamorously active, the admiral was suspect. In his place Cornelisz Witte de With was appointed, a capable sailor, but disliked in the fleet as much as Tromp was beloved. De With effected a junction with De Ruyter and with joint forces they attacked Blake on October 8, near the shoal known as the Kentish Knock. The English fleet was considerably more powerful than the Dutch, and the desertion of De With by some twenty ships decided the issue. The Dutch had to return home with some loss. The English were elated with their victory and thought that they would be safe from further attack until the spring. Blake accordingly was ordered to send a squadron of twenty sail to the Mediterranean, where the Dutch admiral Jan van Galen held the command of the sea. But they were deceived in thinking that the struggle in the Channel was over for the winter. The deserters at the Kentish Knock were punished, but the unpopularity of De With left the authorities with no alternative but to offer the command-in-chief once more to Martin Tromp. Full of resentment though he was at the bad treatment he had received, Tromp was too good a patriot to refuse. At the end of November the old admiral at the head of 100 warships put to sea for the purpose of convoying some 450 merchantmen through the Straits. Stormy weather compelled him to send the convoy with an escort into shelter, but he himself with sixty ships set out to seek the English fleet, which lay in the Downs. After some manoeuvring the two fleets met on December 10, off Dungeness. A stubborn fight took place, but this time it was some of the English ships that were defaulters. The result was the complete victory of the Dutch; and Blake's fleet, severely damaged, retreated under cover of the night into Dover roads. Tromp was now for a time master of the Channel and commerce to and from the ports of Holland and Zeeland went on unimpeded, while many English prizes were captured. [pg.218]
This state of things was however not to last long. Towards the end of February, 1653, Blake put to sea with nearly eighty ships, and on the 25th off Portland met Tromp at the head of a force nearly equal to his own in number. But the Dutch admiral was convoying more than 150 merchantmen and he had moreover been at sea without replenishment of stores ever since the fight at Dungeness, while the English had come straight from port. The fight, which on the part of the Dutch consisted of strong rear-guard actions, had lasted for two whole days, when Tromp found that his powder had run out and that on the third day more than half his fleet were unable to continue the struggle. But, inspiring his subordinates De Ruyter, Evertsen and Floriszoon with his own indomitable courage, Tromp succeeded by expert seamanship in holding off the enemy and conducting his convoy with small loss into safety. Four Dutch men-of-war were taken and five sunk; the English only lost two ships.
Meanwhile both nations had been getting sick of the war. The Dutch were suffering terribly from the serious interference with their commerce and carrying trade and from the destruction of the important fisheries industry, while the English on their side were shut out from the Baltic, where the King of Denmark, as the ally of the United Provinces, had closed the Sound, and from the Mediterranean, where Admiral van Galen, who lost his life in the fight, destroyed a British squadron off Leghorn (March 23). In both Countries there was a peace party. Cromwell had always wished for a closer union with the United Provinces and was averse to war. In the Dutch republic the States party, especially in Holland the chief sufferer by the war, was anxious for a cessation of hostilities; and it found its leader in the youthful John de Witt, who on the death of Adrian Pauw on February 21, 1653, had been appointed council-pensionary. Cromwell took pains to let the Estates of Holland know his favourable feelings towards them by sending over, in February, a private emissary, Colonel Dolman, a soldier who had served in the Netherland wars. On his part John de Witt succeeded in persuading the Estates of Holland to send secretly, without the knowledge of the States-General, letters to the English Council of State and the Parliament expressing their desire to open negotiations. Thus early did the new council-pensionary initiate a form of diplomacy in which he was to prove himself an adept. This first effort was not a success. The Parliament published the letter [pg.219] with the title "Humble Supplication of the States of Holland." The indignation of the Orange partisans was great, and they threatened internal disturbances throughout the Country. Such however was the skill of De Witt that, on Parliament showing a willingness to resume the negotiations that had been broken off in the previous summer, he induced the States-General by a bare majority (four provinces to three) to send a conciliatory letter, the date of which (April 30, 1653) coincided with Cromwell's forcible dissolution of the Rump Parliament and the assumption by him, with the support of the army, of dictatorial powers. The English Council of State, however, was well informed of the serious economical pressure of the war upon Holland; and their insistence now on the full satisfaction of all the English demands made a continuation of hostilities inevitable.
Tromp, after successfully bringing in two large convoys of merchantmen, enCountered (June 12), near the Gabbard, the English fleet under Monk and Deane. Each fleet numbered about 100 sail, but the Dutch ships were inferior in size, solidity and weight of metal. For two days the fight was obstinately and fiercely contested, but on Blake coming up with a reinforcement of thirteen fresh ships, Tromp was obliged to retreat, having lost twenty ships. He complained bitterly, as did his vice-admirals De Ruyter and De With, to the Board of Admiralty of the inferiority of the vessels of his fleet, as compared with those of the adversary.
The English now instituted a blockade of the Dutch coast, which had the effect of reducing to desperate straits a land whose welfare and prosperity depended wholly on commerce. Amsterdam was ruined. In these circumstances direct negotiation was perforce attempted. Four envoys were sent representing the three maritime provinces. At first it seemed impossible that any common ground of agreement could be found. Cromwell was obsessed with the idea of a politico-religious union between the two republics, which would have meant the extinction of Dutch independence. The Council of State met the Dutch envoys with the proposal una gens, una respublica, which nothing but sheer conquest and dire necessity would ever induce the Dutch people to accept. Accordingly the war went on, though the envoys did not leave London, hoping still that some better terms might be offered. But in order to gain breathing space for the efforts of the negotiators, one thing was essential— [pg.220] the breaking of the blockade. The Admiralties made a supreme effort to refit and reinforce their fleet, but it lay in two portions; eighty-five sail under Tromp in the Maas, thirty-one under De With in the Texel. Monk with about 100 ships lay between them to prevent their junction. On August 4 Tromp sailed out and, after a rearguard action off Katwijk, out-manoeuvred the English commander and joined De With. He now turned and with superior numbers attacked Monk off Scheveningen. The old hero fell mortally wounded at the very beginning of what proved to be an unequal fight. After a desperate struggle the Dutch retired with very heavy loss. Monk's fleet also was so crippled that he returned home to refit. The action in which Tromp fell thus achieved the main object for which it was fought, for it freed the Dutch coast from blockade. It was, moreover, the last important battle in the war. The States, though much perplexed to find a successor to Martin Tromp, were so far from being discouraged that great energy was shown in reorganising the fleet. Jacob van Wassenaer, lord of Obdam, was appointed lieutenant-admiral of Holland, with De Ruyter and Evertsen under him as vice-admirals. De With retained his old command of a detached squadron, with which he safely convoyed a large fleet of East Indiamen round the north of Scotland into harbour. After this there were only desultory operations on both sides and no naval engagement.
Meanwhile negotiations had been slowly dragging on. The accession of Cromwell to supreme power in December, 1653, with the title of Lord Protector seemed to make the prospects of the negotiations brighter, for the new ruler of England had always professed himself an opponent of the war, which had shattered his fantastic dream of a union between the two republics. Many conferences took place, but the Protector's attitude and intentions were ambiguous and difficult to divine. The fear of an Orange restoration appears to have had a strange hold on his imagination and to have warped at this time the broad outlook of the statesman. At last Cromwell formulated his proposals in twenty-seven articles. The demands were those of the victor, and were severe. All the old disputes were to be settled in favour of England. An annual sum was to be paid for the right of fishing; compensation to be made for "the massacre of Amboina" and the officials responsible for it punished; the number of warships in English waters was to be [pg.221] limited; the flag had to be struck when English ships were met and the right of search to be permitted. These demands, unpalatable as they were, might at least have furnished a basis of settlement, but there was one demand besides these which was impossible. Article 12 stipulated that the Prince of Orange should not at any time hold any of the offices or dignities which had been held by his ancestors, or be appointed to any military command. De Witt, in whose hands were all the threads of the negotiations, was perfectly aware that it would be useless to present such proposals to the States-General. Not only would they indignantly reject them, but he had not the slightest hope of getting any single province, even Holland, to allow a foreign power to interfere with their internal affairs and to bid them to treat with harsh ingratitude the infant-heir of a family to which the Dutch people owed so deep a debt. There was nothing for it but to prepare for a vigorous resumption of the war. Strong efforts were therefore made at De Witt's instigation to increase the fleet and secure the active co-operation of Denmark and France, both friendly to the States. But Cromwell really wanted peace and showed himself ready to yield on certain minor points, but he continued to insist on the exclusion of the Prince of Orange. Not till the Dutch envoys had demanded their passports did the Protector give way so far as to say he would be content to have the exclusion guaranteed by a secret article.
What followed forms one of the strangest chapters in the history of diplomacy. De Witt had all this time been keeping up, in complete secrecy, a private correspondence with the leading envoy, his confidant Van Beverningh. Through Van Beverningh he was able to reach the private ear of Cromwell, and to enter into clandestine negotiations with him. The council-pensionary knew well the hopelessness of any attempt to get the assent of the States-General to the proposed exclusion, even in a secret article. Van Beverningh was instructed to inform Cromwell of the state of public feeling on this point, with the result that the Protector gave the envoy to understand that he would be satisfied if the Estates of Holland alone would affirm a declaration that the Prince should never be appointed Stadtholder or captain-general. Whether this concession was offered by Cromwell proprio motu or whether it was in the first instance suggested to him by De Witt through Van Beverningh is unknown. In any case the council-pensionary, being convinced of the necessity [pg.222] of peace, resolved to secure it by playing a very deep and dangerous game. Not only must the whole affair be kept absolutely from the cognisance of the States-General, but also De Witt was fully aware that the assent of the Estates of Holland to the proposed exclusion article could only be obtained with the greatest difficulty. He was to prove himself a very past master in the art of diplomatic chicanery and intrigue.
The council-pensionary first set to work to have the treaty, from which the exclusion article had been cut out, ratified rapidly by the States-General, before bringing the secret article to the knowledge of the Estates of Holland. The Estates adjourned for a recess on April 21, 1654. On the following day he presented the treaty to the States-General, and such was his persuasive skill that he accomplished the unprecedented feat of getting this dilatory body to accept the conditions of peace almost without discussion. On April 23 the treaty ratified and signed was sent back to London. Only one article aroused opposition (Art. 32), the so-called "temperament clause"; but Cromwell had insisted upon it. By this article the States-General and the Provincial Estates separately undertook that every Stadtholder , captain-general or commander of military or naval forces should be required to take an oath to observe the treaty. Meanwhile De Witt had received a letter from Van Beverningh and his colleague Nieuwpoort addressed to the Estates of Holland (not at the moment in session) stating that Cromwell refused on his part to ratify the treaty until he received the Act of Exclusion from the Estates, who were until now wholly ignorant that any such proposal would be made to them.
The cleverness and skill now shown by the council-pensionary were truly extraordinary. A summons was sent out to the Estates to meet on April 28 without any reason being assigned. The members on assembly were sworn to secrecy, and then the official letter from London was read to them. The news that Cromwell refused to sign the treaty until he received the assent of the Province of Holland to the Act of Exclusion came upon the Estates like a thunder-bolt. The sudden demand caused something like consternation, and the members asked to be allowed to consider the matter with their principals before taking so momentous a decision. Three days were granted but, as it was essential to prevent publicity, [pg.223] it was settled that only the burgomasters should be consulted, again under oath of secrecy. At the meeting on May 1 another despatch from Van Beverningh was read in which the envoy stated that the demand of Cromwell—that the Act should be placed in his hands within two days after the ratification of the treaty—was peremptory and threatening. Unless he received the Act he would consider the treaty as not binding upon him. Using all his powers of advocacy, De Witt succeeded after an angry debate in securing a majority for the Act. Five towns however obstinately refused their assent, and claimed that it could not be passed without it. But De Witt had made up his mind to risk illegality, and overruled their protest. The Act was declared to have been passed and was on May 5 sent to Van Beverningh and Nieuwpoort with instructions not to deliver it until circumstances compelled them to do so. The proclamation of peace followed amidst general rejoicing both in England and the Netherlands; but for some five weeks the existence of the Act was unknown to the States-General, and during that period, as a fact, it remained in Van Beverningh's possession still undelivered.
Early in June a bribe induced one of De Witt's clerks to betray the secret to Count William Frederick. The news soon spread, and loud was the outcry of the Orange partisans and of the two princesses, who at once addressed a remonstrance to the States-General. All the other provinces strongly protested against the action of the Estates of Holland and of the council-pensionary. De Witt attempted to defend himself and the Estates, by vague statements, avoiding the main issue, but insisting that nothing illegal had been done. His efforts were in vain. On June 6 the States-General passed a resolution that the envoys in England should be ordered to send back at once all the secret instructions they had received from Holland, and the Act of Exclusion. Meanwhile the Estates of Holland themselves, frightened at the clamour which had been aroused, began to show signs of defection. They went so far as to pass a vote of thanks to the envoys for not having delivered the Act to Cromwell. De Witt's position appeared hopeless. He extricated himself and outwitted his opponents by the sheer audacity and cleverness of the steps that he took. His efforts to prevent the resolution of the States-General from taking immediate effect proving unavailing, he put forward the suggestion that on [pg.224] account of its importance the despatch should be sent to the envoys in cipher. This was agreed to, and on June 7 the document was duly forwarded to London by the council-pensionary; but he enclosed a letter from himself to Van Beverningh and Nieuwpoort informing them that the Estates of Holland assented to the request made by the States-General, and that they were to send back the secret correspondence and also the Act, if it were still undelivered. The result answered to his expectations. While the clerk was laboriously deciphering the despatch, the envoys read between the lines of De Witt's letter, and without a moment's delay went to Whitehall and placed the Act in Cromwell's hands. The States-General had thus no alternative between acceptance of the fait accompli and the risk of a renewal of the war. No further action was taken, and the Protector professed himself satisfied with a guarantee of such doubtful validity.
It is impossible to withhold admiration from De Witt's marvellous diplomatic dexterity, and from the skill and courage with which he achieved his end in the face of obstacles and difficulties that seemed insurmountable; but for the course of double-dealing and chicanery by which he triumphed, the only defence that can be offered is that the council-pensionary really believed that peace was an absolute necessity for his Country, and that peace could only be maintained at the cost of the Act of Exclusion. Whether or no Cromwell would have renewed the war, had the Act been withdrawn, it is impossible to say. There is, however, every reason to believe that De Witt was prompted to take the risks he did by purely patriotic motives, and not through spite against the house of Orange. Be this as it may, the part that he now played was bitterly resented, not merely by the Orange partisans, but by popular opinion generally in the United Provinces, and it was never forgiven.