Dutch History for the non-Dutch

(Part 3) The Great Decline (1648 - 1795)


The reason that this part only has four chapters is that nobody likes to talk about the bad things in life and well to say things did not go great after the Golden Age is an understatement. Our economic fortunes declined to the state of well sheer and utter misery as a matter of fact. No longer were we in control, no longer was the Dutch Republic the alpha dog in the pack of European states, instead we were the mocked upon chihuahua. We had to reconcile with the fact that the Republic had had its best days and well some of us were better at dealing with it than others. We were outcompeted by the English in every possible manner and we ended up losing just about every major war during this period and the start of the period after the Golden Age can be summed up in one word "disaster".

The Disaster Year (1672)

In the Disaster Year "Rampjaar" 1672 the people of the Dutch Republic were divided between those who favored the state (Dutch: Staatsgezinden) and those who supported the prince of Orange (Dutch: Prinsgezinden). There had been civil strife before, most notably ending in the beheading of Van Oldenbarneveldt. However this time it turned out to be more serious.

Another contributing factor to the disaster was the competition that existed with England. England turned out to be a far more formidable opponent than the Spanish had ever been. There had already been the two Anglo-Dutch wars. Following the English civil war with Oliver Cromwell, the English were still internally weak. Furthermore the English asked for intervenience of the Dutch Stadsholder to get rid of James II at about 1700 and replace him with the Dutch and protestant Stadtholder William III. Hence the British and Dutch royal families are related. However these two wars were not to be the last ones. In fact a series of no less than 4 wars were fought with the English. A small nation such as the Dutch Republic with only 2.5 million inhabitants at that time just could not keep up with England.

A third and more serious factor were the diplomatic relations with France, the stipulations of the treaty of Aachen (a peace treaty signed between Spain and France) had come out and this had offended the king of France. France had gained little out of the "devolution" and was intent on conquering more territory. The king of France now worked to undermine and isolate the Dutch Republic in a policy called the "Renvensement des Alliances" (the turnover of old Alliances). Although England and France were distrustful of eachother, the countries nevertheless saw mutual interests and decided to form a secret offensive alliance called the pact of Dover. France had already bribed Sweden and could drag the bishoprics of Munster and Cologne into the war. The signs were already there and they pointed out war. The Dutch Republic had a formidable navy, but the army was in a poor shape due to the quarrels between those who favored the prince and those who favored the state. At that time the army was seen as a tool of the Stadtholder, so investment in the army was kept to a minimum and this proved to be a dangerous affair. War erupted in 1672. The bishop of Munster named Bernard van Galen (appropriately nicknamed "Bommen Berend" or Bombs Bernard) attacked Groningen in an event what is now called the "Gronings ontzet", while the French moved through Cologne and around the defenses of the Republic and attacked the cities of Arnhem and Nijmegen. The Dutch Republic responded as they did always, inundate the land to halt the enemy troops. What made matters worse for the Republic is that Bavaria and Sweden joined in the fight. And as if matters were not worse enough, the English navy pursued the Dutch navy, though a battle never occured because Dutch ships fled into a thick fog on the Northsea. The English ransacked some towns along the Dutch coast and returned to their homes not intent on doing anymore battle with their protestant neighbours.

The Dutch republic was attacked by no less than five great European nations. France had an army ten times the size of the Dutch Republic and England had a better navy. The Dutch Republic was surrounded on all sides, with trade cut off and no allies. In retrospect it is surprising that things did not come to an inmediate end for the Dutch nation back then.

Fortunes changed in favor of the Republic when Dutch diplomats successfully managed to gain support from Prussia, which in turn meant the support of the Holy Roman Emperor and also support from.... wait for it.... Spain. Now that was a reversal that France had not hoped for.

What also helped matters for the Republic was that the marshall of Luxembourg who fought for France had a serious case of gout, an ailment that did not improve in the flooded polders. Fed up with looting of towns down the river Vecht he returned home.

The War of the Spanish Succession (1701 - 1714)

In 1700, the last Spanish Habsburg King, Charles II of Spain died without an heir. He bequethed his possessions to Philip the Duke of Anjou. This meant that the Spanish possessions were now in the hands of the House of Bourbon. Philip was the grandson of the half-sister of Charles II and also of the King of France. Philip thereby became Philip V of Spain and since he was also the younger son of the Dauphin of France, Philip was in the line of succession of the French throne. An Empire with the combined forces of France and Spain would have seriously upset the delicate balance within Europe. So a massive coalition of powers emerged to stop the succession of the Duke of Anjou.

The war of the Spanish Succession began slowly as Leopold I (the Holy Roman Emperor) fought to protect the Austrian Habsburg claim to the Spanish inheritance. As Louis XIV began to expand his territories, other European nations (chiefly England, Portugal and the Dutch Republic) entered on the Holy Roman Empire's side, to check French expansion. Other states joined the coalition opposing France and Spain in an attempt to acquire new territories or to protect existing dominions. Spain itself was divided over the succession and fell into a civil war. The war was centered in Spain and West-Central Europe and the Low Countries saw the thick of the fighting. Fighting on the side opposing France and Spain were famous generals such as the Duke of Marlborough, who defeated France and Bavaria at the battle of Blenheim. John Churchill also known as the Duke of Marlborough is the forefather of none other than Winston Churchill.

The war was not fought in Europe alone, but also the West Indies and colonial North and South America where the conflict became known to the English colonists as Queen Anne's War. In all about 400,000 people are said to have died in the war, with most of the casualties coming from the low countries. The war finally concluded with the treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastatt (1714). By then much of Europe was in shambles, with particularly the low countries being hard hit. The war further weakened the economy of the Dutch Republic which was by now in serious decline and could no longer be considered a serious competitor to the English.

The role of the Netherlands in the American Revolution (1775 - 1783)

The war of the Spanish Succession had also been a costly affair to the English Monarchy, which was held by the Dutch Stadtholder William III. He and subsequent monarchs were forced to raise taxes to fight and protect British interests against the French. The House of Hannover that emerged as a new British Dynasty from the union of William with Mary, was excluded from the Dutch Stadtholdership by the act of Seclusion in 1654. What came about instead were no less than two Stadtholderless periods with eventually the House of Nassau (a Frisian cadet branch of the House of Orange) becoming the new line of Stadtholders and ultimately the Royal Family of Netherlands. Thus the English and Dutch monarchies are related.

The raise in taxes also included a new tax levied in distant colonies on the far side of the Atlantic, that were not fully within the grasps of the monarchy. You would think the English King with his Dutch roots had learned from the mistakes made by the Spanish King, but no. When the English King levied a tax on tea, the English colonists in the Americas protested. On the 16th of December 1773 the Boston Tea Party started, what would later become the American Revolution.

The King of England nominally ruled the Netherlands and so could legally claim the support of the Dutch army in the battle against the American rebels. Fortunately for the emerging United States the use of these troops had to be ratified by the Dutch parlaiment. Most provincial parlaiments were firmly in control of the patriots. The "patriotten" or patriots were the political successors of the "staatsgezinden" whom I already mentioned in the previous part. They were liberal and opposed absolutist rule by the King, rather they sought elective representatives and a good and sound constitution. People like Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol were some of the staunchest supporters of the patriot cause. The patriots not only had political strength, but also had learned their lesson from the beheading of Van Oldenbarneveldt. Many patriots by now had their own trained and armed militia, known as the "schutterij". These private militia emerged to protect the Patriots interests against Orangists such as "Kaat Mossel" (translates as: Kate Clam), a woman from Rotterdam who worked as a fishmongers wife and clam inspector. She was a notorious figure who operated in many riots against the Patriots. It is because of her, that the word "Viswijf" (translates as: fishwife) is still considered a derogatory term, particularly used against women whom have no manners. The word is roughly similar to the modern American term "trailer trash".

While the patriots could not stop the formation of Dutch regiments to be used against the rebels in the American Revolution, they did manage to halt the use of these regiments in another way. Parliaments had the final say in how the regiments were to be used in fights, what equipment they should get and so on. By the time the liberal infested parlaiments were done having their say, the Dutch regiments that were supposed to be shipped to the Americas, to fight the American rebels, were no longer fit for combat. Dutch provincial parlaiments could make the most outrageous demands, for example no ammonition had been approved, the men were not allowed to fight during tea time, they were only allowed to wear gala uniform, the pay was dismally low and so on. Though two Dutch regiments were indeed formed, they were send to England instead and only used as an honorary guard and saw no active combat during the entire American revolution. Furthermore what also did not help the Orangist or Monarchist cause was the fact that most of the liberal support for the Patriots came from Dutch merchants and many Dutch merchants were more than willing to smuggle guns and ammonition to the American rebels even if it meant sailing across the Atlantic. The Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean sea with islands like Sint Eustatius and Aruba were notorious for arms smuggling during the American revolution. By the time the French intervened on behalf of the United States, the monarchist cause was lost and American independence won. In fact the Netherlands was the second nation to recognise the United States as an independent nation after France.

The fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780 - 1784)

The fourth Anglo-Dutch war started over the fact whether Dutch merchants were allowed to trade with English enemies. During the American Revolution Dutch merchants were involved in the smuggling of guns and ammonition to the United States and smuggling of naval stores to the French, resulting in the ultimate defeat of the English Monarchy. The Dutch navy was not equipped to fight the English. The Dutch navy did not use impressment and the wages for navy sailors were generally lower than that of the merchant marine. The Dutch navy was unprepared and no match for the English navy. It also needed the support of the French to escort trading vessels through the English Channel. In 1782 a ceasefire was signed and the war formally ended in 1784, with half of the entire Dutch fleet either destroyed or captured. Patriot resentment grew against the Stadtholder and in 1787 a Patriot revolt was surpressed by English and Prussian forces. Many patriots were forced to flee to France, but they would return.

Continue to PART 4