Dutch Foreign Policy

Dutch foreign policy
Louis as Phaethon
Louis as Phaeton struck down by Jupiter
ByJan Smelzing 1706

1 Background: Dutch history till 1648

1.1 Attachment to federal government

The territorial foundations for the creation of the Dutch state had been laid down by the Dukes of Burgundy who had conquered and inherited a number of adjacent territories between the Ems and the Somme. With the Habsburg emperor Charles V, born in Gent this state, in personal union with Spain and Austria, reached the Zenith of its power. His inheritance was however divided, and his son Philips II of Spain ruled the territories from Madrid.

The composite character of the Burgundian state was something that would also become a characteristic of the United Provinces. It would transform into a confederacy. The Dutch certainly clung to their federalism, because it meant that locally collected tax-money was mostly spent locally.

1.2 Dutch resistance against absolutism

In medieval constitutional relations a sovereign had to live of his own possessions and could ask his subjects to help him in case of need. Absolutism is above all about the sovereign claiming the right to levy taxes from his subjects without their consent. This is what Philip II tried to do. In Spain he succeeded, but in his Burgundian territories the attempt sparked a national uprising. This uprising was championed by one of his governors, stadholder William of Orange, forbear of the current Queen Beatrix. Soon the uprising was mixed with a religious conflict in which the rebels embraced Protestantism.

In an eighty year war from 1568 to 1648 the northern part of the territories liberated themselves from Spain. While doing so the inhabitants of these northern parts, that became to be called Dutch, at first thought of having someone of royal blood taking over Sovereignty, but with all royals afraid of insulting the all-powerful Spanish, the Dutch just had to do with the Stewards/Stadtholder (Stadhouders) of the provinces as military leaders and quasi sovereigns. There were in fact two stadholders, one in the west and east, and one in the North. These were combined with republican governments who appointed them and were in some parts of the territories in turn appointed by the stadholders.

Then something happened that nobody in Europe could have foreseen: this government proved far more effective than other governments in setting up an army, a fleet, and supporting a very powerful commerce. The battle of Newpoort (1600) where the Spanish army was beaten in the open field for the first time was an omen for things to come: The Dutch succeeded in conquering almost the whole far-east empire of the Portuguese (at the time unified with Spain), conquered half of Brazil and almost held it, and in general came to dominate European trade and finance.

1.3 Calvinism

The Dutch version of Protestantism is called Calvinism. This was also the religion of the French Protestants. When Louis XIV began his genocidal prosecution of the Huguenots, the Dutch became especially sensitive to their national security.

2 Background: recent history in 1700

2.1 Jealous monarchs make war

After 1648 the monarchs of Europe became more and more irritated with and jealous of Dutch riches. England was the first to try to change this economic situation by means of war. In the first and second Dutch war (known as the first and second English war in Holland) the Dutch resisted the English sea power, but another threat developed at the same time. This consisted of Louis XIV's successful attempts to conquer the Spanish Netherlands. De Witt was successful in halting this advance by intervening on the side of Spain, but neglected to maintain an army to back up this change in policy.

Dreaming of the Dutch riches the French king changed his policy too, and in 1672 the Dutch were surprised by the combined onslaught of England, France and some German states. This war brought the United Provinces to the brink of destruction and led to the appointment of William III as Stadholder. He was able to gather allies, push the French back and redirecting the general policy of the United Provinces to keeping the French out of the Spanish Netherlands.

2.2 Action against England

One of the main problems the Dutch faced was the continuous hostility of the (crypto)Catholic British sovereigns. William III therefore decided to take action: A fleet of 53 warships and 400 transport ships was gathered to transport an army of over 21,000 men, 5,000 horses and a lot of artillery to England. This army was perhaps not bigger than the army of James II, but far superior to it in equipment and training. Of course Louis XIV declared war after the invasion fleet had set sail. With James II unwilling to fight, the Dutch marched on London where William III entered on December 18 1688, sent away all English troops and used the 17,000 Dutch troops to pacify Great Britain and Ireland. In Februari 1689 he became dual Sovereign with Mary bringing a Protestant parliamentary England firmly into the alliance against Louis.

2.3 Against France in the Nine Years War

With the English threat transformed into an alliance, the Anglo-Dutch fought side by side in the Nine Years War. Even so, the Dutch were barely able to keep Louis in check, mainly because the Spanish Netherlands had become much smaller and weaker in the previous wars against France. After the peace of 1697 the Dutch were waiting for the crisis that would be brought about by the Spanish Succession.

2.4 Attempts to avert the War of the Spanish Succession

In the last years of his life William III had tried to avert the looming crisis of the Spanish succession by making multiple treaties with Louis XIV. In the end the treaties signed by Louis XIV proved worthless. William III also wanted his relative, Johan Willem Friso, the Stadtholder of Friesland to succeed him as Stadholder of all the States where he had been Stadholder, but this was prevented by the Dutch Republicans.

3 Aims of the Dutch government in the Spanish Succession War

3.1 Preventing the unification of France and Spain

The most important goal of the Dutch was to prevent the unification of France and Spain (or the annexation of Spain by France). This would threaten their very existence as a state, and perhaps even as a people, considering what Louis XIV had done in the Rhineland. After Felipe V had become king of Spain it seemed less likely that this goal could be achieved. It was therefore changed to ensuring that Spain at least transferred the Spanish Netherlands and its Italian possessions to the Habsburgs. After Portugal acceded to the alliance the Dutch ambitions again increased to evicting Felipe V from Spain. Apart from this the Dutch sought to rollback the border between the Spanish Netherlands and France, a goal they did realize.

3.2 Few territorial ambitions

The Dutch politicians did not have any noteworthy territorial ambitions in this war except for annexing the towns on the Meuse between Nijmegen and Maastricht. Because the Dutch politicians were mostly traders, they looked quite differently upon matters of conquest than monarchs. Annexing territory had to bring in money, not cost money, and certainly not bring more Catholics or competition into the country, which precluded annexing the Southern Netherlands.

These considerations were brought together in the Dutch wishes for the Southern Netherlands to form a barrier against the ever bellicious French. This meant that they wanted another great European power (but not their commercial rivals the English) to have sovereignty there. As a matter of security they also wanted to have the right to occupy the most important fortresses in the Southern Netherlands, and they wanted the Belgian population to pay for the garrisons, effectively limiting the sovereignty of anyone else in the Southern Netherlands. All these demands were brought together in their demand for a Barrier treaty.

3.3 Balance of Power disturbed

And then there was another matter: for a long time the Dutch aim of a European Balance of Power on land was completely in accordance with English aims. The English goal of reaching a balance of power in Europe however also aimed at the English being in absolute power on the sea, and as such precluded a balance of power in the rest of the world. In the end the war of the Spanish succession would have this outcome: The Dutch succeeded in keeping Louis XIV in check, but the English succeeded in laying the foundations for the Anglo-Saxon domination of the world, and this site being written in English, not in French.