Dutch History for the non-Dutch

(Part 4) The Batavian Revolution (1795 - 1815) & The United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1816 - 1831)

The Batavian Revolution (1795)

In the previous part I already mentioned problems had escaleted between the Patriots and the Orangists in 1787. The Stadtholder was married to the Prussian princess Wilhelmina of Prussia and so the Prussians sent an army to restore the power of the Stadtholder in 1787. As a result many patriots either went in hiding or fled to the northern part of France.

However in 1789 the French revolution broke out. Many patriots who had fled from the Netherlands to France, supported the revolution and they were fully intent to share the revolution with the rest of Europe. At the end of December 1794 French revolutionary troops led by general Pichegru marched into the Netherlands. Many rivers were frozen during this harsh winter and so the Patriots together with revolutionary troops saw a chance to conquer the whole of the Netherlands. Stadtholder William V went into exile to England.

The Batavian Republic (1795 - 1806)

England declared war on the Batavian Republic after the departure of the Stadtholder. The Batavian Republic lost many overseas territories including: Ceylon, Guyana in South America, and Cape the Good Hope in what is today the modern nation of South Africa, which were occupied by the English. The colonies left over after the war with England were: (1) the Dutch Indies which is nowadays the modern nation of Indonesia, which was recognised as an independent nation in 1948, (2) the Dutch Antilles, which are still a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands today, though Aruba has a status aparte, and (3) Suriname which did not become independent until 1975.

Meanwhile several Patriot inspired coups followed in the Netherlands with Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck the last Batavian revolutionary to claim power. By 1806 the French marched across the border again and the short-lived Batavian Republic came to an end.

Louis Bonaparte & the Kingdom of Holland (1806 - 1810)

Louis Napoleon at first was quite unpopular in the Netherlands. His brother Napoleon Bonaparte forced him to introduce conscription and the continental system. Many of the conscripts were forced to fight the English who did make an attempt to invade the Netherlands in 1809 and a lot of conscripts were enlisted in the Grande Armee which invaded Russia in 1810. The invasion of Russia failed and many young Dutch men died of starvation, severe fatigue, or froze to death in the cold Russian winter of 1812.

The continental system was a trade embargo on the English and deeply affected Dutch commerce. The Dutch were also forced to pay a large sum to the French Empire of no less than 100 million guilders in exchange for having received the revolution from the French. A hundred million guilders was a huge sum at that time.

The French also introduced many other things, such as: (1) the continental weights and measurements such as the kilometer, the meter, the kilogram and so on, which replaced old measurements such as the Dutch mile an "el" or lower arm's length, (2) a French inspired legal system or the "Code Civil" was introduced, which abolised capital punishment and coporal punishment, (3) housenumbers, and (4) last but not least, last names or family names.

Prior to these reforms many homes had no numbers. Postmen usually had to find homes by the description of the surroundings, like the red brick house on the corner of such and such street.

The introduction of the Code Civil also meant more religious freedom for many Jews and Catholics living in the Netherlands. It is estimated that about one in three citizens of the Netherlands were Catholic at that time.

Prior to the French reform people still used the old Germanic naming convention. Traces of the old naming convention can still be seen in countries like Iceland today. Young boys for instance received the first name that was chosen by the parents and their last name was the first name of their father. Likewise young girls received the first name that was picked by their parents and their last name was the first name of their mother. For example crown prince Willem Alexander would be called Willem Claus today, because Claus is the first name of his father, if we still used the old naming convention. Usually it was common practice for a young boy to get the first name of the grandfather. A practice that is still used in the Danish royal family.

Dutch currency was also standardised, the guilder became the standard coin, with a hundredth of a guilder becoming the cent. The cent itself is derived from the French word "centieme", which translates as a hundredth. Prior to the standardisation of the guilder the Dutch also used Prussian silver coins like the "Daalder". The Dollar is also derived from this coin. The guilder is now gone as it was replaced with the Euro in 2002, but in the Netherlands people call a hundredth of a euro, a cent, or more specifically eurocent.

Louis Bonaparte tried to do something about his bad popularity. Initailly he tried to adress the people in Dutch at his inauguration, but he mispronounced the word "Koning" (translation: King), with the word "konijn" (translation: rabbit) and so was ridiculed by the people for that failed effort. Scandals also erupted during his ruling, his marriage ended up in divorce and it is rumored that his wife had an affair with Charles de Flahaut. Fortunes for Louis changed however when a series of disasters occured. A ship transporting gunpowder accidentally exploded in the city of Leiden. The province of Brabant was affected by floodings. The measures Louis took and the relief effort that he made were very effective and it certainly made him more popular amongst his subjects.

Louis Bonaparte was a lover of culture and he founded many instutions, such as many libraries and museums, including the world famous Rijksmuseum, filled with paintings of painters like Rembrandt for instance.

The many reforms however were not satisfactory for his older brother Napoleon Bonaparte. The Netherlands were incorporated in the French Empire after a quarrel with between the two brothers as a result of the failed English invasion of 1809.

Napoleon Bonaparte & The First French Empire (1810 - 1815)

Napoleon abdicated his throne in 1813 after he was decisively defeated in the Battle of Leipzig. Stadtholder William returned from exile in 1813, but he did not become King until after the diplomatic negotiations at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. When Napoleon was defeated again at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the European powers decided that there had to be a better balance of power in Europe. It was decided that the Kingdom of the Netherlands alone was too small, to defend itself against a potential foreign agressor like France and so Stadtholder William not only became King of the Netherlands, but also receieved the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the southern or formerly Austrian Netherlands. The southern Netherlands nowadays corresponds to the modern nation of Belgium. So Stadtholder William V became King William I.

The Monarchy

King William I was an able ruler and a good diplomat, however his son William II nicknamed the Hero of Waterloo or Slender Billy was known more of a fighter and less of a diplomat. The father and the son did not get along very well and unfortunately it soon turned out diplomacy was more important to keep the newly created country together. William II or William Frederik married the Russian princess Anna Paulowna and would ultimately become the second King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg in 1840. The southern part of the Netherlands was a wealthier region than the north. The industrial revolution had made its first steps into the Netherlands, and the southern part had more easier accessible coal than the north. There were also huge cultural differences between the north and the south. The north aside from the "Generaliteitslanden" provinces ruled by the Estates general, like Brabant and Limburg, was largely protestant, while the south or the formerly Austrian Netherlands were largely Catholic. The far south of the former Austrian Netherlands, corresponding roughly to modern Wallonia was also French speaking territory. It is these cultural differences combined with the poor attitude of the then crown prince Willem Frederik or William II that resulted in the Belgian Revolt.

The Belgian Revolt (1830)

The Belgian revolt started in Brussels during an Opera (the Muette de Portici). The opera is a libretto and can be seen as one of the earliest examples of a grand style opera. The main story is inspired on an historic event known as the rebellion of Napels against the Spanish crown. The irony was that the opera was written for the 58th birthday of king William I. It is this opera that fueled anti-Dutch sentiments and that led to riots in the city of Brussels.

Brussels was initially a largely Dutch speaking city, but due to the industrialisation and investure of local governments in Brussels, that often required civil servants to speak French (remember the law was based on the French "code civil"), the city became more and more a French speaking city.

The army was unable to contain the riots, so these riots began to spread to other parts of the country and eventually a civil war erupted. The Dutch army was not equipped to fight a guerilla war in the narrow medieval planned towns in the south and eventually the French speaking elite managed to drive the Dutch army out of the southern cities. Matters were made worse for the Dutch army when the supply ships were blocked in the ports. A Dutch captain on board a naval vessel was forced to blow up his ship (with him on it), in order to keep it from falling into the hands of the rebels.

It is this war that is the root of many Dutch jokes about "dumb Belgians". This war and the subsequent independence and peace treaty also resulted in many strange laws and treaties we have with the Belgians today, such as the opening up of the river Scheldt (the river runs through the Netherlands, towards the port of Antwerp, the largest port of Belgium). Another strange result is the continuing existance of the Belgian exclave Baarle-Hertog. Baarle-Hertog is a Belgian county completely surrounded by Dutch territory. Yet another strange result is a railway line called the "IJzeren Rijn" (Iron Rhine), which runs straight through the Dutch province of Limburg towards Germany.

The Belgian war for indepence was nothing new in itself, elsewhere across Europe many other nations emerged that were equally fed up with the Vienna treaty. Irish, Polish and Italians too fought for their independence.

Belgian Independence (1831)

On october the 4th 1830 a temporary Belgian government was formed and ultimately Belgian independence was claimed. The Belgium state got a King of their own and Leopold of Saxony to Coburg to Saalfeld became the first King of Belgium in 1831. Leopold spoke French and he was the first and only protestant king of the Belgians.

Though Belgium was lost, King William kept the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg for the time being.

Continue to PART 5