- Written by L.C.Geerts
- font size decrease font size increase font size
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 REGENCY OF ANNE AND OF BRUNSWICK 1751-1766
On the death of William IV, his widow, Anne of England, was at once recognised as regent and guardian of her son William V. Bentinck and other leaders of the Orangist party took prompt measures to secure that the hereditary rights of the young prince did not suffer by his father's early death. During the minority Brunswick was deputed to perform the duties of captain-general. The new regent was a woman of by no means ordinary parts. In her domestic life she possessed all the virtues of her mother, Queen Caroline; and in public affairs she had been of much help to her husband and was deeply interested in them. She was therefore in many ways well-fitted to undertake the serious responsibilities that devolved upon her, but her good qualities were marred by a self-willed and autocratic temperament, which made her resent any interference with her authority. William Bentinck, who was wont to be insistent with his advice, presuming on the many services he had rendered, the Duke of Brunswick, and the council-pensionary Steyn were all alike distrusted and disliked by her. Her professed policy was not to lean on any party, but to try and hold the balance between them. Unfortunately William IV, after the revolution of 1747, had allowed his old Frisian counsellors (with Otto Zwier van Haren at their head) to have his ear and to exercise an undue influence upon his decisions. This Frisian court-cabal continued to exercise the same influence with Princess Anne; and the Hollanders not unnaturally resented it. For Holland, as usual, in the late war had borne the brunt of the cost and had a debt of 70,000,000 fl. and an annual deficit of 28,000,000 fl. The council-pensionary Steyn was a most competent financier, and he with Jan Hop, the treasurer-general of the Union, and with William Bentinck, head and spokesman of the nobles in the Estates of Holland, were urgent in impressing upon the Regent the crying need of retrenchment. Anne accepted their advice as to the means [pg.317] by which economies might be effected and a reduction of expenses be brought about. Among these was the disbanding of some of the military forces, including a part of the body-guard. To this the regent consented, though characteristically without consulting Brunswick. The captain-general felt aggrieved, but allowed the reduction to be made without any formal opposition. No measure, however, of a bold and comprehensive financial reform, like that of John de Witt a century earlier, was attempted.
The navy had at the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle been in an even worse condition than the army; and the Stadtholder , as admiral-general, had been urging the Admiralties to bestir themselves and to make the fleet more worthy of a maritime power. But William's premature death brought progress to a standstill; and it is noteworthy that such was the supineness of the States-General in 1752 that, while Brunswick was given the powers of captain-general, no admiral-general was appointed. The losses sustained by the merchants and ship-owners through the audacity of the Algerian pirates roused public opinion, however; and in successive years squadrons were despatched to the Mediterranean to bring the sea-robbers to reason. Admiral Boudaen in 1755 contented himself with the protection of the merchantmen, but Wassenaer in 1756 and 1757 was more aggressive and compelled the Dey of Algiers to make terms.
Meanwhile the rivalry between France and England on the one hand, and between Austria and Prussia on the other, led to the formation of new alliances, and placed the Dutch Republic in a difficult position. The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was but an armed truce. The French lost no time in pushing forward ambitious schemes of colonial enterprise in North America and in India. Their progress was watched with jealous eyes by the English; and in 1755 war broke out between the two powers. The Republic was bound to Great Britain by ancient treaties; but the activities of the French ambassador, D'Affry, had been successful in winning over a number of influential Hollanders and also the court-cabal to be inclined to France and to favour strict neutrality. The situation was immensely complicated by the alliance concluded between Austria and France on May 1, 1756.
This complete reversal of the policy, which from the early years of William III had grouped England, Austria and the States in [pg.318] alliance against French aggression, caused immense perturbation amongst the Dutch statesmen. By a stroke of the pen the Barrier Treaty had ceased to exist, for the barrier fortresses were henceforth useless. The English ambassador, Yorke, urged upon the Dutch government the treaty right of Great Britain to claim the assistance of 6000 men and twenty ships; Austria had the able advocacy of D'Affry in seeking to induce the States to become parties to the Franco-Austrian alliance. The regent, though an English princess, was scarcely less zealous than were the council-pensionary Steyn, Brunswick and most of the leading burgher-regents in desiring to preserve strict neutrality. To England the answer was made that naval and military help were not due except in case of invasion. The French had meanwhile been offering the Dutch considerable commercial privileges in exchange for their neutrality, with the result that Dutch merchantmen were seized by the English cruisers and carried into English ports to be searched for contraband.
The princess had a very difficult part to play. Delegations of merchants waited upon her urging her to exert her influence with the English government not to use their naval supremacy for the injury of Dutch trade. Anne did her best, but without avail. England was determined to stop all commercial intercourse between France and the West Indies. Dutch merchantmen who attempted to supply the French with goods did so at their own risk. Four deputations from Amsterdam and the maritime towns waited upon the princess, urging an increase of the fleet as a protection against England. Other deputations came from the inland provinces, asking for an increase of the army against the danger of a French invasion. The French were already in occupation of Ostend and Nieuport, and had threatening masses of troops on the Belgian frontier. The regent, knowing on which side the peril to the security of the Country was greatest, absolutely refused her consent to an increase of the fleet without an increase of the army. The Estates of Holland refused to vote money for the army; and, having the power of the purse, matters were at a deadlock. The Republic lay helpless and without defence should its enemies determine to attack it. In the midst of all these difficulties and anxietssies, surrounded by intrigues and Counter-intrigues, sincerely patriotic and desirous to do her utmost for the Country, but thwarted and distrusted on every side, the health of the regent, which had never been strong, gradually [pg.319] gave way. On December 11, 1758, she went in person to the States-General, "with tottering steps and death in her face," to endeavour to secure unity of action in the presence of the national danger, but without achieving her object. The maritime provinces were obdurate. Seeing death approaching, with the opening of the new year she made arrangements for the marriage of her daughter Caroline with Charles Christian, Prince of Nassau-Weilburg, and after committing her two children to the care of the Duke of Brunswick (with whom she had effected a reconciliation) and making him guardian of the young Prince of Orange, Anne expired on January 12, 1759, at the early age of forty-nine.
The task Brunswick had to fulfil was an anxious one, but by the exercise of great tact, during the seven years of William's minority, he managed to gather into his hands a great deal of the powers of a Stadtholder , and at the same time to ingratiate himself with the anti-Orange States party, whose power especially in Holland had been growing in strength and was in fact predominant. By politic concessions to the regents, and by the interest he displayed in the commercial and financial prosperity of the city of Amsterdam, that chief centre of opposition gave its support to his authority; and he was able to do this while keeping at the same time on good terms with Bentinck, Steyn, Fagel and the Orange party.
The political position of the United Provinces during the early part of the Brunswick guardianship was impotent and ignominious in the extreme. Despite continued protests and complaints, Dutch merchantmen were constantly being searched for contraband and brought as prizes into English ports; and the lucrative trade that had been carried on between the West Indies and France in Dutch bottoms was completely stopped. Even the fitting out of twenty-one ships of the line, as a convoy, effected nothing, for such a force could not face the enormous superiority of the English fleet, which at that time swept the seas. The French ambassador, D'Affry, made most skilful use of his opportunities to create a pro-French party in Holland and especially in Amsterdam, and he was not unsuccessful in his intrigues. But the Dutch resolve to remain neutral at any cost remained as strong as ever, for, whatever might be the case with maritime Holland, the inland provinces shrank from running any risks of foreign invasion. When at last the Peace of Paris came in 1763, the representatives of the United Provinces, though they essayed to [pg.320] play the part of mediators between the warring powers, no longer occupied a position of any weight in the councils of the European nations. The proud Republic, which had treated on equal terms with France and with Great Britain in the days of John de Witt and of William III, had become in the eyes of the statesmen of 1763 a negligible quantity.
One of the effects of the falling-off in the overseas trade of Amsterdam was to transform this great commercial city into the central exchange of Europe. The insecurity of sea-borne trade caused many of the younger merchants to deal in money securities and bills of exchange rather than in goods. Banking houses sprang up apace, and large fortunes were made by speculative investments in stocks and shares; and loans for foreign governments, large and small, were readily negotiated. This state of things reached its height during the Seven Years' War, but with the settlement which followed the peace of 1763 disaster came. On July 25 the chief financial house in Amsterdam, that of De Neufville, failed to meet its liabilities and brought down in its crash a very large number of other firms, not merely in Holland, but also in Hamburg and other places; for a veritable panic was caused, and it was some time before stability could be restored.
The remaining three years of the Brunswick régime were uneventful in the home Country. Differences with the English East India Company however led to the expulsion of the Dutch from their trading settlements on the Hooghley and Coromandel; and in Berbice there was a serious revolt of the negro slaves, which, after hard fighting in the bush, was put down with much cruelty. The young Prince of Orange on the attainment of his eighteenth year, March 8,1766, succeeded to his hereditary rights. His grandmother, Maria Louisa, to whose care he had owed much, had died on April 9, in the previous year. During the interval the Princess Caroline had taken her place as regent in Friesland.