François Pierre Guillaume Guizot.

A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 5 online

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had married a Hollander, and persisted in the Triple Alliance. Louis
XIV. employed in this negotiation his sister-in-law, Madame Henriette,
who was much attached to her brother, the King of England, and was
intelligent and adroit; she was on her return from a trip to London,
which she had with great difficulty snatched from the jealous
susceptibilities of Monsieur, when she died suddenly at Versailles on the
30th of June, 1670. "It were impossible to praise sufficiently the
incredible dexterity of this princess in treating the most delicate
matters, in finding a remedy for those hidden suspicions which often keep
them in suspense, and in terminating all difficulties in such a manner as
to conciliate the most opposite interests; this was the subject of all
talk, when on a sudden resounded, like a clap of thunder, that astounding
news, Madame is dying! Madame is dead! And there, in spite of that great
heart, is this princess, so admired and so beloved; there, as death has
made her for us!" [Bossuet, _Oraison funebre d'Henriette d'Angleterre._]

Madame's work was nevertheless accomplished, and her death was not
destined to interrupt it. The treaty of alliance was secretly concluded,
signed by only the Catholic councillors of Charles II.; it bore that the
King of England was resolved to publicly declare his return to the
Catholic church; the King of France was to aid him towards the execution
of this project with assistance to the amount of two millions of livres
of Tours; the two princes bound themselves to remain faithful to the
peace of Aix-la-Chapelle as regarded Spain, and to declare war together
against the United Provinces the King of France would have to supply to
his brother of England, for this war, a subsidy of three million livres
of Tours every year. When the Protestant ministers were admitted to
share the secret, silence was kept as to the declaration of Catholicity,
which was put off till after the war in Holland; Parliament had granted
the king thirteen hundred thousand pounds sterling to pay his debts, and
eight hundred thousand pounds to "equip in the ensuing spring" a fleet of
fifty vessels, in order that he might take the part he considered most
expedient for the glory of his kingdom and the welfare of his subjects.
"The government of our country is like a great bell which you cannot stop
when it is once set going," said King Charles II., anxious to commence
the war in order to handle the subsidies the sooner; he was,
nevertheless, obliged to wait. Louis XIV. had succeeded in dragging him
into an enterprise contrary to the real interests of his country as well
as of his national policy; in order to arrive at his ends he had set at
work all the evil passions which divided the court of England; he had
bought up the king, his mistresses, and his ministers; he had dangled
before the fanaticism of the Duke of York the spectacle of England
converted to Catholicism; but his work was not finished in Europe; he
wished to assure himself of the neutrality of Germany in the great duel
he was meditating with the republic of the United Provinces.

As long ago as 1667 Louis XIV. had practically paved the way towards the
neutrality of the empire by a secret treaty regulating the eventual
partition of the Spanish, monarchy. In case the little King of Spain
died without children, France was to receive the Low Countries, Franche-
Comte, Navarre, Naples, and Sicily; Austria was to keep Spain and
Milaness. The Emperor Leopold therefore turned a deaf ear to the
entreaties of the Hollanders who would fain have bound him down to the
Triple Alliance; a new convention between France and the empire, secretly
signed on the 1st of November, 1670, made it reciprocally obligatory on
the two princes not to aid their enemies. The German princes were more
difficult to win over; they were beginning to feel alarm at the
pretensions of France. The electors of Treves and of Mayence had already
collected some troops on the Rhine; the Duke of Lorraine seemed disposed
to lend them assistance; Louis XIV. seized the pretext of the restoration
of certain fortifications contrary to the treaty of Marsal; on the 23d of
August, 1675, he ordered Marshal Crequi to enter Lorraine; at the
commencement of September, the whole duchy was reduced, and the duke a
fugitive. "The king had at first been disposed to give up Lorraine to
some one of the princes of that house," writes Louvois; "but, just now,
he no longer considers that province to be a country which he ought to
quit so soon, and it appears likely that, as he sees more and more every
day how useful that conquest will be for the unification of his kingdom,
he will seek the means of preserving it for himself." In point of fact,
the king, in answer to the emperor's protests, replied that he did not
want to turn Lorraine to account for his own profit, but that he would
not give it up at the solicitations of anybody. Brandenburg and Saxony
alone refused point blank to observe neutrality; France had renounced
Protestant alliances in Germany, and the Protestant electors comprehended
the danger that threatened them. Sweden also comprehended it, but
Gustavus Adolphus and Oxenstiern were no longer there; there remained
nothing but the remembrance of old alliances with France; the Swedish
senators gave themselves up to the buyer one after another. "When you
have made some stay at Stockholm," wrote Courtin, the French ambassador
in Sweden, to M. do Pomponne, "and seen the vanity of the Gascons of the
North, the little honesty there is in their conduct, the cabals which
prevail in the Senate, and the feebleness and inertness of those who
compose it, you cannot be surprised at the delays and changes which take
place. If the Senate of Rome had shown as little inclination as that of
Sweden at the present time for war, the Roman empire would not have been
of so great an extent." The treaty, however, was signed on the 14th of
April, 1672; in consideration of an annual subsidy of six hundred
thousand livres Sweden engaged to oppose by arms those princes of the
empire who should determine to support the United Provinces. The gap was
forming round Holland.

In spite of the secrecy which enveloped the negotiations of Louis XIV.,
Van Witt was filled with disquietude; favorable as ever to the French
alliance, he had sought to calm the irritation of France, which set down
the Triple Alliance to the account of Holland. "I remarked," says a
letter in 1669, from M. de Pomponne, French ambassador at the Hague,
"that it seemed to me a strange thing that, whereas this republic had two
kings for its associates in the triple alliance, it affected in some sort
to put itself at their head so as to do all the speaking, and that it was
willing to become the seat of all the manoeuvres that were going on
against France, which was very likely to render it suspected of some
prepossession in favor of Spain." John Van Witt defended his country
with dignified modesty. "I know not whether to regard as a blessing or a
curse," said he, "the incidents which have for several years past brought
it about that the most important affairs of Europe have been transacted
in Holland. It must no doubt be attributed to the situation and
condition of this state, which, whilst putting it after all the crowned
heads, cause it to be readily agreed to as a place without consequence;
but, as for the prepossession of which we are suspected in favor of
Spain, it cannot surely be forgotten what aversion we have as it were
sucked in with our milk towards that nation, the remnants that still
remain of a hatred fed by so much blood and such long wars, which make it
impossible, for my part, that my inclinations should ever turn towards
that crown."

Hatred to Spain was not so general in Holland as Van Witt represented;
and internal dissensions amongst the Estates, sedulously fanned by
France, were slowly ruining the authority of the aristocratic and
republican party, only to increase the influence of those who favored the
house of Nassau. In his far-sighted and sagacious patriotism, John van
Witt had for a long time past foreseen the defeat of his cause, and he
had carefully trained up the heir of the stadtholders, William of Nassau,
the natural head of his adversaries. It was this young prince whom the
policy of Louis XIV. at that time opposed to Van Witt in the councils of
the United Provinces, thus strengthening in advance the indomitable foe
who was to triumph over all his greatness and vanquish him by dint of
defeats. The despatch of an ambassador to Spain, to form there an
alliance offensive and defensive, was decided upon. "M. de Beverninck,
who has charge of this mission, is without doubt a man of strength and
ability," said M. de Pomponne, "and there are many who put him on a par
with M. de Witt; it is true that he is not on a par with the other the
whole day long, and that with the sobriety of morning he often loses the
desert and capacity that were his up to dinner-time." The Spaniards at
first gave but a cool reception to the overtures of the Hollanders.
"They look at their monarchy through the spectacles of Philip II.," said
Beverninck, "and they take a pleasure in deceiving themselves whilst they
flatter their vanity." Fear of the encroachments of France carried the
day, however. "They consider," wrote M. de Lionne, "that, if they left
the United Provinces to ruin, they would themselves have but the favor
granted by the Cyclops, to be eaten last;" a defensive league was
concluded between Spain and Holland, and all the efforts of France
could not succeed in breaking it.

John van Witt was negotiating in every direction. The treaty of Charles
II. with France had remained a profound secret, and the Hollanders
believed that they might calculate upon the good-will of the English
nation. The arms of England were effaced from the Royal Charles, a
vessel taken by Van Tromp in 1667, and a curtain was put over a picture,
in the town-hall of Dordrecht, of the victory at Chatham, representing
the ruart [inspector of dikes] Cornelius van Witt leaning on a cannon.
These concessions to the pride of England were not made without a
struggle. "Some," says M. de Pomponne, "thought it a piece of baseness
to despoil themselves during peace, of tokens of the glory they had won
in the war; others, less sensitive on this point of delicacy, and more
affected by the danger of disobliging a crown which formed the first and
at this date the most necessary of their connections, preferred the less
spirited but safer to the honorable but more dangerous counsels."
Charles II. played with Boreel, ambassador of the United Provinces at the
court of London; taking advantage of the Estates' necessity in order to
serve his nephew the Prince of Orange, he demanded for him the office of
captain-general, which had been filled by his ancestors. Already the
prince had been recognized as premier noble of Zealand, and he had
obtained entrance to the council; John van Witt raised against him the
vote of the Estates of Holland, still preponderant in the republic.
"The grand pensionary soon appeased the murmurs and complaints that were
being raised against him," writes M. de Pomponne. "He prefers the
greatest dangers to the re-estab lishment of the Prince of Orange, and to
his re-establishment on the recommendation of the King of England; he
would consider that the republic accepted a double yoke, both in the
person of a chief who, from the post of captain general, might rise to
all those which his fathers had filled, and in accepting him at the
instance of a suspected crown." The grand pensionary did not err. In
the spring of 1672, in spite of the loss of M. de Lionne, who died
September 1, 1671, all the negotiations of Louis XIV. had succeeded; his
armaments were completed; he was at last about to crush that little power
which had for so long a time past presented an obstacle to his designs.
"The true way of arriving at the conquest of the Spanish Low Countries is
to abase the Hollanders and annihilate them if it be possible," said
Louvois to the Prince of Conde on the 1st of November, 1671; and the king
wrote in an unpublished memorandum, "In the midst of all my successes
during my campaign of 1667, neither England nor the empire, convinced as
they were of the justice of my cause, whatever interest they may have had
in checking the rapidity of my conquests, offered any opposition. I
found in my path only my good, faithful, and old friends the Hollanders,
who, instead of interesting themselves in my fortune as the foundation
of their dominion, wanted to impose laws upon me and oblige me to make
peace, and even dared to use threats in case I refused to accept their
mediation. I confess that their insolence touched me to the quick, and
that, at the risk of whatever might happen to my conquests in the Spanish
Low Countries, I was very near turning all my forces against this proud
and ungrateful nation; but, having summoned prudence to my aid, and
considered that I had neither number of troops nor quality of allies
requisite for such an enterptise, I dissimulated, I concluded peace on
honorable conditions, resolved to put off the punishment of such perfidy
to another time." The time had come; to the last attempt towards
conciliation, made by Van Groot, son of the celebrated Grotius, in the
name of the States General, the king replied with threatening
haughtiness. "When I discovered that the United Provinces were trying to
debauch my allies, and were soliciting kings, my relatives, to enter into
offensive leagues against me, I made up my mind to put myself in a
position to defend myself, and I levied some troops; but I intend to have
more by the spring, and I shall make use of them at that time in the
manner I shall consider most proper for the welfare of my dominions and
for my own glory."

"The king starts to-morrow, my dear daughter," writes Madame de Sevigne
to Madame de Grignan on the 27th of April "there will be a hundred
thousand men out of Paris; the two armies will form a junction; the king
will command Monsieur, Monsieur the prince, the prince M. de Turenne, and
M. de Turenne the two marshals and even the army of Marshal Crequi. The
king spoke to M. de Bellefonds and told him that his desire was that he
should obey M. de Turenne without any fuss. The marshal, without asking
for time (that was his mistake), said that he should not be worthy of the
honor his Majesty had done him if he dishonored himself by an obedience
without precedent. Marshal d'Humieres and Marshal Crequi said much the
same. M. de la Rochefoucauld says that Bellefonds has spoilt everything
because he has no joints in his mind. Marshal Crequi said to the king,
'Sir, take from me my baton, for are you not master? Let me serve this
campaign as Marquis of Crequi; perhaps I may deserve that your Majesty
give me back the baton at the end of the war.' The king was touched; but
the result is, that they have all three been at their houses in the
country planting cabbages (have ceased to serve)."

"You will permit me to tell you that there is nothing for it but to obey
a master who says that he means to be obeyed," wrote Louvois to M. de
Crequi. The king wanted to have order and one sole command in his army:
and he was right.

The Prince of Orange, who had at last been appointed captain-general for
a single campaign, possessed neither the same forces nor the same
authority; the violence of party-struggles had blinded patriotic
sentiment and was hampering the preparations for defence. Out of
sixty-four thousand troops inscribed on the registers of the Dutch army,
a great number neglected the summons; in the towns, the burgesses rose
up against the magistrates, refusing to allow the faubourgs to be pulled
down, and the peasants threatened to defend the dikes and close the
sluices." When word was sent yesterday to the peasants to come and work
on the Rhine at the redoubts and at piercing the dikes, not a man
presented himself," says a letter of June 28, from John van Witt to his
brother Cornelius; "all is disorder and confusion here." "I hope that,
for the moment, we shall not lack gunpowder," said Beverninck; "but as
for guncarriages there is no help for it; a fortnight hence we shall not
have more than seven." Louvois had conceived the audacious idea of
purchasing in Holland itself the supplies of powder and ball necessary
for the French army and the commercial instincts of the Hollanders had
prevailed over patriotic sentiment. Ruyter was short of munitions in
the contest already commenced against the French and English fleet.
"Out of thirty-two battles I have been in I never saw any like it," said
the Dutch admiral after the battle of Soultbay (Solebay) on the 7th of
June. "Ruyter is admiral, captain, pilot, sailor, and soldier all in
one," exclaimed the English. Cornelius van Witt in the capacity of
commissioner of the Estates had remained seated on the deck of the
admiral's vessel during the fight, indifferent to the bullets that
rained around him. The issue of the battle was indecisive; Count
d'Estrees, at the head of the French flotilla, had taken little part
in the action.

It was not at sea and by the agency of his lieutenants that Louis XIV.
aspired to gain the victory; he had already arrived at the banks of the
Rhine, marching straight into the very heart of Holland. "I thought it
more advantageous for my designs, and less common on the score of glory,"
he wrote to Colbert on the 31st of May, "to attack four places at once on
the Rhine, and to take the actual command in person at all four sieges...
. I chose, for that purpose, Rheinberg, Wesel, Burick, and Orsoy, and I
hope that there will be no complaint of my having deceived public
expectation." The four places did not hold out four days. On the 12th
of June, the king and the Prince of Conde appeared unexpectedly on the
right bank of the intermediary branch of the Rhine, between the Wahal and
the Yssel. The Hollanders were expecting the enemy at the ford of, the
Yssel, being more easy to pass; they were taken by surprise; the king's
cuirassier regiment dashed into the river, and crossed it partly by
fording and partly by swimming; the resistance was brief; meanwhile the
Duke of Longueville was killed, and the Prince of Conde was wounded for
the first time in his life. "I was present at the passage, which was
bold, vigorous, full of brilliancy, and glorious for the nation," writes
Louis XIV. Arnheim and Deventer had just surrendered to Turenne and
Luxembourg; Duisbourg resisted the king for a few days; Monsieur was
besieging Zutphen. John van Witt was for evacuating the Hague and
removing to Amsterdam the centre of government and resistance; the Prince
of Orange had just abandoned the province of Utrecht, which was
immediately occupied by the French; the defensive efforts were
concentrated upon the province of Holland; already Naarden, three leagues
from Amsterdam, was in the king's hands. "We learn the surrender of
towns before we have heard of their investment," wrote Van Witt. A
deputation from the States was sent on the 22d of June to the king's
headquarters to demand peace. Louis XIV. had just entered Utrecht,
which, finding itself abandoned, opened its gates to him. On the same
day, John van Witt received in a street of the Hague four stabs with a
dagger from the hand of an assassin, whilst the city of Amsterdam, but
lately resolved to surrender and prepared to send its magistrates as
delegates to Louis XIV., suddenly decided upon resistance to the bitter
end. " If we must perish, let us at any rate be the last to fall,"
exclaimed the town-councillor Walkernier, "and let us not submit to the
yoke it is desired to impose upon us until there remain no means of
securing ourselves against it." All the sluices were opened and the
dikes cut. Amsterdam floated amidst the waters. "I thus found myself
under the necessity of limiting my conquests, as regarded the province of
Holland, to Naarden, Utrecht, and Werden," writes Louis XIV. in his
unpublished Memoire touching the campaign of 1672, and he adds, with rare
impartiality, "the resolution to place the whole country under water was
somewhat violent; but what would not one do to save one's self from
foreign domination? I cannot help admiring and commending the zeal and
stout-heartedness of those who broke off the negotiation of Amsterdam,
though their decision, salutary as it was for their country, was very
prejudicial to my service; the proposals made to me by the deputies from
the States General were very advantageous, but I could never prevail upon
myself to accept them."

Louis XIV. was as yet ignorant what can be done amongst a proud people by
patriotism driven to despair; the States General offered him Maestricht,
the places on the Rhine, Brabant and Dutch Flanders, with a war-indemnity
of ten millions; it was an open door to the Spanish Low Countries, which
became a patch enclosed by French possessions; but the king wanted to
annihilate the Hollanders; he demanded Southern Gueldres, the Island of
Bonmel, twenty-four millions, the restoration of Catholic worship, and,
every year, an embassy commissioned to thank the king for having a second
time given peace to the United Provinces. This was rather too much; and,
whilst the deputies were negotiating with heavy hearts, the people of
Holland had risen in wrath.

From the commencement of the war, the party of the house of Nassau had
never ceased to gain ground. John van Witt was accused of all the
misfortunes of the state; the people demanded with loud outcries the
restoration of the stadtholderate, but lately abolished by a law voted by
the States under the presumptuous title of perpetual edict. Dordrecht,
the native place of the Van Witts, gave the signal of insurrection.
Cornelius van Witt, who was confined to his house by illness, yielded to
the prayers of his wife and children, and signed the municipal act which
destroyed his brother's work; the contagion spread from town to town,
from province to province; on the 4th of July the States General
appointed William of Orange stadtholder, captain-general, and admiral of
the Union; the national instinct had divined the savior of the country,
and with tumultuous acclamations placed in his hands the reins of the

[Illustration: William III., Prince of Orange - - 434]

William of Orange was barely two and twenty when the fate of revolutions
suddenly put him at the head of a country invaded, devastated, half
conquered; but his mind as well as his spirit were up to the level of his
task. He loftily rejected at the assembly of the Estates the proposals
brought forward in the king's name by Peter van Groot. "To subscribe
them would be suicide," he said: "even to discuss them is dangerous; but,
if the majority of this assembly decide otherwise, there remains but one
course for the friends of Protestantism and liberty, and that is, to
retire to the colonies in the West Indies, and there found a new country,
where their consciences and their persons will be beyond the reach of
tyranny and despotism." The States General decided to "reject the hard
and intolerable conditions proposed by their lordships the Kings of
France and Great Britain, and to defend this state and its inhabitants
with all their might." The province of Holland in its entirety followed
the example of Amsterdam; the dikes were everywhere broken down, at the
same time that the troops of the electors of Brandenburg and Saxony were
advancing to the aid of the United Provinces, and that the emperor was
signing with those two princes a defensive alliance for the maintenance
of the treaties of Westphalia, the Pyrenees, and Aix-la-Chapelle.

Louis XIV. could no longer fly from conquest to conquest; henceforth his
troops had to remain on observation; care for his pleasures recalled him
to France; he left the command-in-chief of his army to M. de Turenne, and
set out for St. Germain, where he arrived on the 1st of August. Before
leaving Holland, he had sent home almost without ransom twenty thousand
prisoners of war, who before long entered the service of the States
again. "It was an excess of clemency of which I had reason afterwards
to repent," says the king himself. His mistake was, that he did not
understand either Holland or the new chief she had chosen.

Dispirited and beaten, like his country, John van Witt had just given in
his resignation as councillor pensionary of Holland. He wrote to Ruyter
on the 5th of August, as follows: "The capture of the towns on the Rhine

Online LibraryFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotA Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 5 → online text (page 36 of 57)