THE STORY OF HOLLAND.
Dutch, as my reader remembers, had won their freedom from Spain. At one
time there was good reason to believe that they would have won with their
own, the freedom of the whole of those Netherlands, which had been, less
than three centuries before, the collective inheritance of the house of
Burgundy. Had the life of William the Silent been prolonged, it might
have been the case that this great result would have happened, and that
the first industrial Power in Europe would have been a series of federated
republics and cities, in which true principles of government and a just
regard for all national interests would have been maintained. Now I think
there are few less profitable speculations than a discussion as to what
would have happened had the life of this or that public man been prolonged.
William was murdered by a hired assassin; but even before this crime was
committed, the inveterate vice of the Netherlandsmutual jealousy
and the want of political cohesionleft them an easy prey to the
great and wicked men whom Philip sent against them. The Council of Blood
destroyed all aspirants after national liberty, and all who were suspected
of any leaning towards the Reformed faith. It is a mistake to say that
persecution will not destroy a creed. If it be quite systematic and entirely
unscrupulous it can utterly extinguish a creed. It did so with Protestantism
in Flanders, France, Spain, Austria, and Bohemia. It did so with the Roman
religion in Sweden, in Denmark, in much of North Germany. The Dutch and
the Flemish nations were severed by the Inquisition, and the arts of diplomacy
have been unable to unite them.
Now there are three
European nations which have always been at variance, at least as long
as one of them was in fighting trim, and since that time the remaining
two have been perpetually quarrelling. The three were France, Spain, and
the German Empire, the last for a time identified with the house of Austria,
and within our own experience with that of Prussia. For a long time the
struggle was principally between France and Spain, till, in the end, Spain
was entirely exhausted, and became of little account in the councils of
Europe. Then all the efforts of France, and all the military purposes
of her kings and rulers, were devoted towards crippling the house of Austria.
Later on, and quite recently, France tried conclusions with a new German
power, and was considerably surprised at the result. It is not easy to
say whether, in these later days, her old passion for an enlarged frontier
has passed away, and she is prepared to accept the present situation.
Now it will be remembered
that at the Treaty of Utrecht, which purported to go on the same lines
with the famous Peace of Munster or Westphalia, the boundaries of the
several European states were generally settled. Some changes, to be sure,
were made, one of which was of great significance to Holland. The Spanish
Netherlands were transferred to Austria, and a country which France always
eagerly coveted was given to a sovereign who had enough to do to hold
his own in Germany, and would find it difficult to defend his new acquisition.
France had already, as the Dutch too well knew, got a foothold in the
Netherlands by the acquisition of Dunkirk, and had winked at or encouraged
its becoming a nest of pirates. The demolition of the fortifications of
Dunkirk was a capital point in the negotiations for a peace. The Dutch
were supposed to be defended by a series of forts in Flemish territory,
called barrier towns, which they garrisoned. But on the west, for all
this, they had the French nation, always eager to extend its frontier
on the east, at the expense of Austria, and on the cast they had the Prussian
kingdom, which at a time, when the opinion was current that kings succeeded
by inheritance to nations, just as though they were cows or sheep, claimed
in a vague way the succession to the stadtholder's office, though for
a time the Prussian ruler had been put off with a compensation.
Now the Emperor of
Germany, of the house of Austria, Charles VI., was the person on whose
behalf the English and Dutch had waged the war of the Spanish succession
from the year 1702 till the year 1713. In 1711 he became Emperor of Germany
on the unexpected death of his brother Joseph, who left behind him daughters,
his only son having died. Charles had a son who died young, and a daughter,
Maria Theresa, who married Francis of Lorraine and afterwards of Tuscany.
Every effort was made by the emperor to get the various European Powers
to acknowledge what goes in history by the name of the Pragmatic Sanction,
a decree of the emperor under which the Austrian inheritance was declared
to descend to the females of his line. One by one, and for this or that
reason, the several Powers agreed to abide by this new line of succession,
the commonest plea, one by the way which the French Government put prominently
forward, being that such a line of policy would preserve that balance
of power in Europe, which it was the object of the great treaties to affirm
Among the nations
which agreed to accept and support the Pragmatic Sanction was the Dutch.
Charles, as I have already said, approached them on their weak side, the
Ostend Company, and agreed to suppress it, as the price of their acquiescence
in his favourite project. Here then were the Hollanders, who had been
successfully resisting the dynastic claims of the house of Orange against
themselves, agreeing to a new departure in Germany, and willing to risk
their lives, their trade, and their wealth in a family arrangement from
which they could get no possible benefit whatever. It is not, I think,
too much to say, that had the Dutch stood entirely aloof in the war of
the Austrian succession, and not suffered themselves to be embroiled in
it, the Republic would have been saved, and though it might not have been
possible to have resisted revolutionary France, it would not have collapsed
so ignominiously as it did. During the disputes about the slave trade
with the Spanish colonies, Holland had contrived to preserve her neutrality,
though Dutch interests were so universal that no two nations could quarrel
without Amsterdam suffering some heavy pecuniary loss.
One of the German
princes, the Elector of Bavaria, had persistently refused to accept the
Pragmatic Sanction. He had some reason on his side, for he had married
a daughter of the Emperor Joseph, elder brother of Charles VI., and if
female claims were to be admitted, had, from a modern point of view, a
better claim than his wifes cousin possessed. He became emperor
under the title of Charles VII., but only reigned three years. Charles
VI. died in October 1740, and his successor was elected two years afterwards.
Now every one who
has read German history, and in particular that of the house of Prussia,
knows that just about the time that Charles VI. died there succeeded to
the Prussian throne a king who is called Frederic the Great, perhaps because
he broke his word about the succession of Maria Theresa, and took advantage
of her defenceless condition to lay waste and annex part of her dominions.
The story of how gallantly the Queen of Hungary defended herself, and
how Frederic had to suffer a good many reverses before he could actually
get secure possession of what he coveted, is told in the histories, and
does not concern us. Holland, which had a good deal to lose and nothing
to gain, kept its word, however unwisely it was given; and agreed to find
the queen a force of 20,000 men, though some of the States remonstrated,
because the Austrian Government had not extinguished the Ostend Company.
But Holland was dragged into the struggle, and in the end suffered more
than any of the combatants, for she lost her liberty, surrendering it
to an hereditary stadtholder, and came out of the war simply crippled
The King of England
eagerly took the part of the Austrian queen. The French Government took
the side of the King of Prussia. But the war was one of cross purposes.
England engaged with France, but did not attack Prussia, and Maria Theresa
fought against Bavaria and Prussia. The English won the battle of Dettingen,
and the French supplied Charles Edward, known as the young Pretender,
with means for invading England. Then when Charles VII. died at the beginning
of the year 1745, and the husband of Maria Theresa was elected emperor,
a peace was patched up with Prussia, and England and Holland were left
to carry on the war with France. The war was transferred to the Netherlands,
and one after the other the French army captured the Flemish towns. In
May, 1745, occurred the battle of Fontenoy, in which the French gained
a victory, and the Dutch suffered severely. Loss soon followed upon loss,
and the Dutch became eager for peace, the more so as the original reason
for which war was undertaken had ceased to operate, since the Queen of
Hungary had become Empress of Germany. But though the Dutch desired peace
the English desired war, and George of England wished to thrust his son-in-law
into an hereditary position. In 1747 Holland was invaded, and scenes like
those of 1672 was threatened. The Orange party, always most active in
the midst of national disaster, insisted on William IV. being made Stadtholder.
Zeland proclaimed him, and soon the whole seven provinces elected him.
Advantage was taken of the situation to propose that his office should
be made hereditary, and this proposal was accepted.
Holland now ceased
to be a republic in anything but name. The States were still High Mightinesses,
and, as far as phrases went, were still the powers which had carried the
little State through all her perils, and made her friendship of account
at every European Court. But all the magistrates wielded was taken away,
and transferred to the Stadtholder, who with the functions of royalty,
took upon him no little of its state and emblems. The debt and taxation
of Holland were enormous and crushing. The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was
signed in October, 1748, and Holland was left exhausted. The Dutch Republic
was at an end.