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HOLLAND THE HISTORY OF THE NETHERLANDS
THOMAS COLLEY GRATTAN
WITH A SUPPLEMENTARY CHAPTER OF RECENT EVENTS BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE
Lardner's ‘Cyclop.’ vol. x. 1830
FROM THE PEACE OF NIMEGUEN TO THE PEACE OF UTRECHT A.D. 1678--1713
A few years passed over after this period, without the occurrence of any transaction sufficiently important to require a mention here. Each of the powers so lately at war followed the various bent of their respective ambition. Charles of England was sufficiently occupied by disputes with parliament, and the discovery, fabrication, and punishment of plots, real or pretended. Louis XIV., by a stretch of audacious pride hitherto unknown, arrogated to himself the supreme power of regulating the rest of Europe, as if all the other princes were his vassals. He established courts, or chambers of reunion as they were called, in Metz and Brisac, which cited princes, issued decrees, and authorized spoliation, in the most unjust and arbitrary manner. Louis chose to award to himself Luxemburg, Chiny, and a considerable portion of Brabant and Flanders. He marched a considerable army into Belgium, which the Spanish governors were unable to oppose. The Prince of Orange, who labored incessantly to excite a confederacy among the other powers of Europe against the unwarrantable aggressions of France, was unable to arouse his Countrymen to actual war; and was forced, instead of gaining the glory he longed for, to consent to a truce for twenty years, which the states-general, now wholly pacific and not a little cowardly, were too happy to obtain from France. The emperor and the king of Spain gladly entered into a like treaty. The fact was that the peace of Nimeguen had disjointed the great confederacy which William had so successfully brought about; and the various powers were laid utterly prostrate at the feet of the imperious Louis, who for a while held the destinies of Europe in his hands.
Charles II. died most unexpectedly in the year 1685; and his obstinately bigoted and unconstitutional successor, James II., seemed, during a reign of not four years' continuance, to rush wilfully headlong to ruin. During this period, the Prince of Orange had maintained a most circumspect and unexceptionable line of conduct; steering clear of all interference with English affairs; giving offence to none of the political factions; and observing in every instance the duty and regard which he owed to his father-in-law. During Monmouth's invasion he had despatched to James's assistance six regiments of British troops which were in the Dutch service, and he offered to take the command of the king's forces against the rebels. It was from the application of James himself that William took any part in English affairs; for he was more widely and much more congenially employed in the establishment of a fresh league against France. Louis had aroused a new feeling throughout Protestant Europe by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The refugees whom he had driven from their native Country inspired in those in which they settled hatred of his persecution as well as alarm of his power. Holland now entered into all the views of the Prince of Orange. By his immense influence he succeeded in forming the great confederacy called the League of Augsburg, to which the emperor, Spain, and almost every European power but England became parties.
James gave the prince reason to believe that he too would join in this great project, if William would in return concur in his views of domestic tyranny; but William wisely refused. James, much disappointed, and irritated by the moderation which showed his own violence in such striking contrast, expressed his displeasure against the prince, and against the Dutch generally, by various vexatious acts. William resolved to maintain a high attitude; and many applications were made to him by the most considerable persons in England for relief against James's violent measures, and which there was but one method of making effectual. That method was force. But as long as the Princess of Orange was certain of succeeding to the crown on her father's death, William hesitated to join in an attempt that might possibly have failed and lost her her inheritance. But the birth of a son, which, in giving James a male heir, destroyed all hope of redress for the kingdom, decided the wavering, and rendered the determined desperate. The prince chose the time for his enterprise with the sagacity, arranged its plan with the prudence, and put it into execution with the vigor, which were habitual qualities of his mind.
Louis XIV., menaced by the League of Augsburg, had resolved to strike the first blow against the allies. He invaded Germany; so that the Dutch preparations seemed in the first instance intended as measures of defence against the progress of the French. But Louis's envoy at The Hague could not be long deceived. He gave notice to his master, who in his turn warned James. But that infatuated monarch not only doubted the intelligence, but refused the French king's offers of assistance and co-operation. On the 21st of October, the Prince of Orange, with an army of fourteen thousand men, and a fleet of five hundred vessels of all kinds, set sail from Helvoetsluys; and after some delays from bad weather, he safely landed his army in Torbay, on the 5th of November, 1688. The desertion of James's best friends; his own consternation, flight, seizure, and second escape; and the solemn act by which he was deposed; were the rapid occurrences of a few weeks: and thus the grandest revolution that England had ever seen was happily consummated. Without entering here on legislative reasonings or party sophisms, it is enough to record the act itself; and to say, in reference to our more immediate subject, that without the assistance of Holland and her glorious chief, England might have still remained enslaved, or have had to purchase liberty by oceans of blood. By the bill of settlement, the crown was conveyed jointly to the Prince and Princess of Orange, the sole administration of government to remain in the prince; and the new sovereigns were proclaimed on the 23d of February, 1689. The convention, which had arranged this important point, annexed to the settlement a declaration of rights, by which the powers of royal prerogative and the extent of popular privilege were defined and guaranteed.
William, now become king of England, still preserved his title of Stadtholder of Holland; and presented the singular instance of a monarchy and a republic being at the same time governed by the same individual. But whether as a king or a citizen, William was actuated by one grand and powerful principle, to which every act of private administration was made subservient, although it certainly called for no sacrifice that was not required for the political existence of the two nations of which he was the head. Inveterate opposition to the power of Louis XIV. was this all-absorbing motive. A sentiment so mighty left William but little time for inferior points of government, and everything but that seems to have irritated and disgusted him. He was soon again on the Continent, the chief theatre of his efforts. He put himself in front of the confederacy which resulted from the congress of Utrecht in 1690. He took the command of the allied army; and till the hour of his death, he never ceased his indefatigable course of hostility, whether in the camp or the cabinet, at the head of the allied armies, or as the guiding spirit of the councils which gave them force and motion.
Several campaigns were expended, and bloody combats fought, almost all to the disadvantage of William, whose genius for war was never seconded by that good fortune which so often decides the fate of battles in defiance of all the calculations of talent. But no reverse had power to shake the constancy and courage of William. He always appeared as formidable after defeat as he was before action. His conquerors gained little but the honor of the day. Fleurus, Steinkerk, Herwinde, were successively the scenes of his evil fortune, and the sources of his fame. His retreats were master-strokes of vigilant activity and profound combinations. Many eminent sieges took place during this war. Among other towns, Mons and Namur were taken by the French, and Huy by the allies; and the army of Marshal Villeroi bombarded Brussels during three days, in August, 1695, with such fury that the town-house, fourteen churches, and four thousand houses, were reduced to ashes. The year following this event saw another undecisive campaign. During the continuance of this war, the naval transactions present no grand results. Du Bart, a celebrated adventurer of Dunkirk, occupies the leading place in those affairs, in which he carried on a desultory but active warfare against the Dutch and English fleets, and generally with great success.
All the nations which had taken part in so many wars were now becoming exhausted by the contest, but none so much so as France. The great despot who had so long wielded the energies of that Country with such wonderful splendor and success found that his unbounded love of dominion was gradually sapping all the real good of his people, in chimerical schemes of universal conquest. England, though with much resolution voting new supplies, and in every way upholding William in his plans for the continuance of war, was rejoiced when Louis accepted the mediation of Charles XI., king of Sweden, and agreed to concessions which made peace feasible. The emperor and Charles II. of Spain, were less satisfied with those concessions; but everything was finally arranged to meet the general views of the parties, and negotiations were opened at Ryswyk. The death of the king of Sweden, and the minority of his son and successor, the celebrated Charles XII., retarded them on points of form for some time. At length, on the 20th of September, 1697, the articles of the treaty were subscribed by the Dutch, English, Spanish, and French ambassadors. The treaty consisted of seventeen articles. The French king declared he would not disturb or disquietss the king of Great Britain, whose title he now for the first time acknowledged. Between France and Holland were declared a general armistice, perpetual amity, a mutual restitution of towns, a reciprocal renunciation of all pretensions upon each other, and a treaty of commerce which was immediately put into execution. Thus, after this long, expensive, and sanguinary war, things were established just on the footing they had been by the peace of Nimeguen; and a great, though unavailable lesson, read to the world on the futility and wickedness of those quarrels in which the personal ambition of kings leads to the misery of the people. Had the allies been true to each other throughout, Louis would certainly have been reduced much lower than he now was. His pride was humbled, and his encroachments stopped. But the sufferings of the various Countries engaged in the war were too generally reciprocal to make its result of any material benefit to either. The emperor held out for a while, encouraged by the great victory gained by his general, Prince Eugene of Savoy, over the Turks at Zenta in Hungary; but he finally acceded to the terms offered by France; the peace, therefore, became general, but, unfortunately for Europe, of very short duration.
France, as if looking forward to the speedy renewal of hostilities, still kept her armies undisbanded. Let the foresight of her politicians have been what it might, this negative proof of it was justified by events. The king of Spain, a weak prince, without any direct heir for his possessions, considered himself authorized to dispose of their succession by will. The leading powers of Europe thought otherwise, and took this right upon themselves. Charles died on the 1st of November, 1700, and thus put the important question to the test. By a solemn testament he declared Philip, Duke of Anjou, second son of the dauphin, and grandson of Louis XIV., his successor to the whole of the Spanish monarchy. Louis immediately renounced his adherence to the treaties of partition, executed at The Hague and in London, in 1698 and 1700, and to which he had been a contracting party; and prepared to maintain the act by which the last of the descendants of Charles V. bequeathed the possessions of Spain and the Indies to the family which had so long been the inveterate enemy and rival of his own.
The emperor Leopold, on his part, prepared to defend his claims; and thus commenced the new war between him and France, which took its name from the succession which formed the object of dispute. Hostilities were commenced in Italy, where Prince Eugene, the conqueror of the Turks, commanded for Leopold, and every day made for himself a still more brilliant reputation. Louis sent his grandson to Spain to take possession of the inheritance, for which so hard a fight was yet to be maintained, with the striking expression at parting--"My child, there are no longer any Pyrenees!" an expression most happily unprophetic for the future independence of Europe; for the moral force of the barrier has long existed after the expiration of the family compact which was meant to deprive it of its force.
Louis prepared to act vigorously. Among other measures, he caused part of the Dutch army that was quartered in Luxemburg and Brabant to be suddenly made prisoners of war, because they would not own Philip V. as king of Spain. The states-general were dreadfully alarmed, immediately made the required acknowledgment, and in consequence had their soldiers released. They quickly reinforced their garrisons, purchased supplies, solicited foreign aid, and prepared for the worst that might happen. They wrote to King William, professing the most inviolable attachment to England; and he met their application by warm assurances of support and an immediate reinforcement of three regiments.
William followed up these measures by the formation of the celebrated treaty called the Grand Alliance, by which England, the States, and the emperor covenanted for the support of the pretensions of the latter to the Spanish monarchy. William was preparing, in spite of his declining health, to take his usual lead in the military operations now decided on, and almost all Europe was again looking forward to his guidance, when he died on the 8th of March, 1701, leaving his great plans to receive their execution from still more able adepts in the art of war.
William's character has been traced by many hands. In his capacity of king of England, it is not our province to judge him in this place. As Stadtholder of Holland, he merits unqualified praise. Like his great ancestor William I., whom he more resembled than any other of his race, he saved the Country in a time of such imminent peril that its abandonment seemed the only resource left to the inhabitants, who preferred self-exile to slavery. All his acts were certainly merged in the one overwhelming object of a great ambition--that noble quality, which, if coupled with the love of Country, is the very essence of true heroism. William was the last of that illustrious line which for a century and a half had filled Europe with admiration. He never had a child; and being himself an only one, his title as Prince of Orange passed into another branch of the family. He left his cousin, Prince Frison of Nassau, the Stadtholder of Friesland, his sole and universal heir, and appointed the states-general his executors.
William's death filled Holland with mourning and alarm. The meeting of the states-general after this sad intelligence was of a most affecting description; but William, like all master-minds, had left the mantle of his inspiration on his friends and followers. Heinsius, the grand pensionary, followed up the views of the lamented Stadtholder with considerable energy, and was answered by the unanimous exertions of the Country. Strong assurances of support from Queen Anne, William's successor, still further encouraged the republic, which now vigorously prepared for war. But it did not lose this occasion of recurring to the form of government of 1650. No new Stadtholder was now appointed; the supreme authority being vested in the general assembly of the states, and the active direction of affairs confided to the grand pensionary. This departure from the form of government which had been on various occasions proved to be essential to the safety, although at all times hazardous to the independence, of the States, was not attended with any evil consequences. The factions and the anarchy which had before been the consequence of the course now adopted were prevented by the potent influence of national fear lest the enemy might triumph, and crush the hopes, the jealousies, and the enmities of all parties in one general ruin. Thus the common danger awoke a common interest, and the splendid successes of her allies kept Holland steady in the career of patriotic energy which had its rise in the dread of her redoubtable foe.
The joy in France at William's death was proportionate to the grief it created in Holland; and the arrogant confidence of Louis seemed to know no bounds. "I will punish these audacious merchants," said he, with an air of disdain, when he read the manifesto of Holland; not foreseeing that those he affected to despise so much would, ere long, command in a great measure the destinies of his crown. Queen Anne entered upon the war with masculine intrepidity, and maintained it with heroic energy. Efforts were made by the English ministry and the states-general to mediate between the kings of Sweden and Poland. But Charles XII., enamored of glory, and bent on the one great object of his designs against Russia, would listen to nothing that might lead him from his immediate career of victory. Many other of the northern princes were withheld, by various motives, from entering into the contest with France, and its whole brunt devolved on the original members of the Grand Alliance. The generals who carried it on were Marlborough and Prince Eugene. The former, at its commencement an earl, and subsequently raised to the dignity of Duke, was declared generalissimo of the Dutch and English forces. He was a man of most powerful genius, both as warrior and politician. A pupil of the great Turenne, his exploits left those of his master in the shade. No commander ever possessed in a greater degree the faculty of forming vast designs, and of carrying them into effect with consummate skill; no one displayed more coolness and courage in action, saw with a keener eye the errors of the enemy, or knew better how to profit by success. He never laid siege to a town that he did not take, and never fought a battle that he did not gain.
Prince Eugene joined to the highest order of personal bravery a profound judgment for the grand movements of war, and a capacity for the most minute of the minor details on which their successful issue so often depends. United in the same cause, these two great generals pursued their course without the least misunderstanding. At the close of each of those successive campaigns, in which they reaped such a full harvest of renown, they retired together to The Hague, to arrange, in the profoundest secrecy, the plans for the next year's operations, with one other person, who formed the great point of union between them, and completed a triumvirate without a parallel in the history of political affairs. This third was Heinsius, one of those great men produced by the republic whose names are tantamount to the most detailed eulogium for talent and patriotism. Every enterprise projected by the confederates was deliberately examined, rejected, or approved by these three associates, whose strict union of purpose, disowning all petty rivalry, formed the centre of counsels and the source of circumstances finally so fatal to France.
Louis XIV., now sixty years of age, could no longer himself command his armies, or probably did not wish to risk the reputation he was conscious of having gained by the advice and services of Turenne, Conde, and Luxemburg. Louvois, too, was dead; and Colbert no longer managed his finances. A council of rash and ignorant ministers hung like a dead weight on the talent of the generals who succeeded the great men above mentioned. Favor and not merit too often decided promotion, and lavished command. Vendome, Villars, Boufflers, and Berwick were set aside, to make way for Villeroi, Tallard, and Marsin, men every way inferior.
The war began in 1702 in Italy, and Marlborough opened his first campaign in Brabant also in that year. For several succeeding years the confederates pursued a career of brilliant success, the details of which do not properly belong to this work. A mere chronology of celebrated battles would be of little interest, and the pages of English history abound in records of those deeds. Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet, are names that speak for themselves, and tell their own tale of glory. The utter humiliation of France was the result of events, in which the undying fame of England for inflexible perseverance and unbounded generosity was joined in the strictest union with that of Holland; and the impetuous valor of the worthy successor to the title of Prince of Orange was, on many occasions, particularly at Malplaquet, supported by the devotion and gallantry of the Dutch contingent in the allied armies. The naval affairs of Holland offered nothing very remarkable. The states had always a fleet ready to support the English in their enterprises; but no eminent admiral arose to rival the renown of Rooke, Byng, Benbow, and others of their allies. The first of those admirals took Gibraltar, which has ever since remained in the possession of England. The great earl of Peterborough carried on the war with splendid success in Portugal and Spain, supported occasionally by the English fleet under Sir Cloudesley Shovel, and that of Holland under Admirals Allemonde and Wapenaer.
During the progress of the war, the haughty and longtime imperial Louis was reduced to a state of humiliation that excited a compassion so profound as to prevent its own open expression--the most galling of all sentiments to a proud mind. In the year 1709 he solicited peace on terms of most abject submission. The states-general, under the influence of the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene, rejected all his supplications, retorting unsparingly the insolent harshness with which he had formerly received similar proposals from them. France, roused to renewed exertions by the insulting treatment experienced by her humiliated but still haughty despot, made prodigious but vain efforts to repair her ruinous losses. In the following year Louis renewed his attempts to obtain some tolerable conditions; offering to renounce his grandson, and to comply with all the former demands of the confederates. Even these overtures were rejected; Holland and England appearing satisfied with nothing short of--what was after all impracticable--the total destruction of the great power which Louis had so long proved to be incompatible with their welfare.
The war still went on; and the taking of Bouchain on the 30th of August, 1711, closed the almost unrivalled military career of Marlborough, by the success of one of his boldest and best conducted exploits. Party intrigue had accomplished what, in court parlance, is called the disgrace, but which, in the language of common sense, means only the dismissal of this great man. The new ministry, who hated the Dutch, now entered seriously into negotiations with France. The queen acceded to these views, and sent special envoys to communicate with the court of Versailles. The states-general found it impossible to continue hostilities if England withdrew from the coalition; conferences were consequently opened at Utrecht in the month of January, 1712. England took the important station of arbiter in the great question there debated. The only essential conditions which she demanded individually were the renunciation of all claims to the crown of France by Philip V., and the demolition of the harbor of Dunkirk. The first of these was the more readily acceded to, as the great battles of Almanza and Villaviciosa, gained by Philip's generals, the Dukes of Berwick and Vendome, had steadily fixed him on the throne of Spain--a point still more firmly secured by the death of the emperor Joseph I., son of Leopold, and the elevation of his brother Charles, Philip's competitor for the crown of Spain, to the imperial dignity, by the title of Charles VI.
The peace was not definitively signed until the 11th of April, 1713; and France obtained far better conditions than those which were refused her a few years previously. The Belgian provinces were given to the new emperor, and must henceforth be called the Austrian instead of the Spanish Netherlands. The gold and the blood of Holland had been profusely expended during this contest; it might seem for no positive results; but the exhaustion produced to every one of the other belligerents was a source of peace and prosperity to the republic. Its commerce was re-established; its financial resources recovered their level; and altogether we must fix on the epoch now before us as that of its utmost point of influence and greatness. France, on the contrary, was now reduced from its palmy state of almost European sovereignty to one of the deepest misery; and its monarch, in his old age, found little left of his former power but those records of poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture which tell posterity of his magnificence, and the splendor of which throw his faults and his misfortunes into the shade.
The great object now to be accomplished by the United Provinces was the regulation of a distinct and guaranteed line of frontier between the republic and France. This object had become by degrees, ever since the peace of Munster, a fundamental maxim of their politics. The interposition of the Belgian provinces between the republic and France was of serious inconvenience to the former in this point of view. It was made the subject of a special article in "the grand alliance." In the year 1707 it was particularly discussed between England and the States, to the great discontent of the emperor, who was far from wishing its definitive settlement. But it was now become an indispensable item in the total of important measures whose accomplishment was called for by the peace of Utrecht. Conferences were opened on this sole question at Antwerp in the year 1714; and, after protracted and difficult discussions, the treaty of the Barrier was concluded on the 15th of November, 1715.
This treaty was looked on with an evil eye in the Austrian Netherlands. The clamor was great and general; jealousy of the commercial prosperity of Holland being the real motive. Long negotiations took place on the subject of the treaty; and in December, 1718, the republic consented to modify some of the articles. The Pragmatic Sanction, published at Vienna in 1713 by Charles VI., regulated the succession to all the imperial hereditary possessions; and, among the rest, the provinces of the Netherlands. But this arrangement, though guaranteed by the chief powers of Europe, was, in the sequel, little respected, and but indifferently executed.