The decline of the Republic
By the second half of the eighteenth century, the Golden Age of the Republic seemed definitely to be over. As a trading nation, England is outperforming the Republic by far. The slight growth in the financial sector does not resolve the vast unemployment. In terms of international politics, the Republic hardly counts for anything anymore either. This becomes painfully clear during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784), which the Republic loses.
Amidst this crisis, a new political group emerges: citizens who, up until then, have had almost no say in national and urban administrations. They blame the decline on the Stadtholder and on corrupt regents. These critical citizens demand involvement and supervision. They call themselves “Patriots” (patriot means fellow countryman). Several regents join their movement.
On 26 September 1781, a Patriot in the city of Zwolle by the name of Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol publishes a pamphlet entitled “To the People of the Netherlands”, in which he incites the population to revolt. The pamphlet is printed anonymously and secretly distributed across the country in armoured coaches. A political debate ensues in which two parties are formed. On one side, the supporters of Stadtholder William V: the Orangists. On the other, his opponents: the Patriots. Neither camp holds back from using political print. They both inundate the country with magazines, leaflets, and cartoons that analyse and illustrate the condition of the Republic. Slowly but surely, a national feeling emerges. Rather than mere residents of a particular city or region, people start to feel citizens of a country.
In 1787, the Patriots attempt to assume power and depose the Stadtholder. They organise themselves into “volunteer forces”, a type of militias. Stadtholder William V no longer feels safe in the Patriot city of The Hague and retreats to Nijmegen. Within a short time, his wife Wilhelmina of Prussia will play a pivotal role in this coup d’état. On 28 June 1787, she travels to The Hague to convince the States of Holland to allow her husband to return. Near Gouda, she is stopped by the Patriots and taken to a farm near the Goejanverwellesluis lock. She claims that the Patriots have treated her in a manner not befitting her status and enlists the help of her brother, King Frederick William II of Prussia, in order to restore Stadtholder power. The Patriot volunteer forces are no match for the well-trained Prussian soldiers. The Stadtholder and his family return, and the dynasty of Orange is are once again in power. Following this defeat, many Patriots are imprisoned or attacked by Orangists. For that reason, many of them flee to France.
Seven years later, the old Republic comes to an end after all, when the Patriots overthrow the government with the help of the French. The Batavian Republic (1795-1801) is founded, followed by the Batavian Commonwealth (1801-1806). This period sees a range of political reforms, such as the formation of an elected parliament and the introduction of the Netherlands’ first Constitution: the Constitution for the Batavian People. In 1806, the Batavian Commonwealth ceases to exist, when Louis Napoleon is crowned King of the Kingdom of Holland.