This series has eight easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: The French Attack The Netherlands.
When The Netherlands was attacked by France, England, Sweden, and even some German powers, it seemed that the Dutch were finished. Against all of these powers they stood alone. Seldom has any people held out so heroically against overwhelming numbers as did the Dutch in 1672.
The principal events of the war are narrated by Davies, who shows how the old spirit of the Dutch returned to them in this supreme hour of new peril to their liberties.
This selection is from History of Holland and the Dutch, 900 – 1799 by C.M. Davies. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
The Dutch, though, in defense of their religion and liberties, they had beaten the first soldiers in the world, were never essentially a military nation; and in 1672 a long interval of peace, and devotion to the pursuits of commerce, had rendered them quite unfit for warlike enterprises. The army was entirely disorganized; the officers, appointed by the magistrates of the towns on the score of relationship or party adherence, without the slightest regard to their efficiency, were suffered, without fear of punishment, to keep the numbers of their regiments incomplete, in order that they might appropriate the pay of the vacancies; while the men, independent and undisciplined, were allowed to spend their time in the pursuit of some gainful trade or peaceful occupation, instead of practicing military exercises. The disputes concerning the appointment of a captain-general had impeded any fresh levies, the recruits refusing to take the oath to the States except in conjunction with the Prince of Orange, and had induced many of the best and most experienced officers to take service in the French army; the fortifications of the towns were in a dilapidated condition, and no measures had been adopted for the security of the frontier.
Such was the state to which party spirit had reduced a nation filled with brave, intelligent, and virtuous inhabitants, and governed by statesmen as able and wise as the world ever saw, when the two most powerful sovereigns of Europe declared war against her. The manifests were both issued on the same day. That of the King of England is strongly marked by the duplicity which was the distinguishing characteristic both of himself and of his court as then constituted. From the style of the document one might be led to suppose that he was forced into the war with extreme reluctance and regret, and only in consequence of the impossibility of obtaining redress by any other means for the deep injuries he had sustained. He declared that, so far back as the year 1664, his Parliament had complained of the wrongs and oppressions exercised by the Dutch on his subjects in the East Indies, and for which they had refused to make reparation by amicable means.
They had openly refused him the honor of the flag, one of the most ancient prerogatives of his crown; had sought to invite the King of France to hostilities against him; and had insulted his person and dignity by the abusive pictures and medals exposed in all their towns. This expression was understood to allude to a medal complained of three years before, and to a portrait of Cornelius de Witt, in the perspective of which was a representation of the burning of Chatham. Cornelius de Witt being an ex-burgomaster of Dordrecht, the council of that town had, with a natural pride, caused this picture to be painted and hung up in the council-chamber. The extreme sensitiveness manifested by Charles on this point appeared to the States rather superfluous in a monarch whose own kingdom teemed with the most offensive truths relative to himself and his government.
As if determined that the mode of commencing hostilities should be as lawless and unjust as the war itself, the court of England, several days before the declaration was issued, had commanded Sir Robert Holmes to attack the Dutch Smyrna fleet on its return. While cruising near the Isle of Wight, Holmes met the admiral, Sprague, by whom he was informed of the near approach of the vessels; but, anxious to secure to himself the whole of the booty, estimated at near a million and a half of guilders, he suffered Sprague to sail away in ignorance of his instructions, and leaving him with no more than nine frigates and three yachts. His covetousness, happily, proved the salvation of the fleet. After a short encounter of two days’ duration, Holmes was forced to retire, having captured no more than three or four of the more inconsiderable ships, while the remainder gained their harbors in safety.
The King of France appeared, by the tenor of his declaration of war, to imagine that his power and dignity entitled him to set at naught alike the natural rights of mankind and the law of nations; it resembled, indeed, rather the threat of a predatory incursion on the part of a barbarian chief than the justification of the taking up of arms by a civilized government. Without adducing a single cause of complaint, he satisfied himself with declaring that the conduct of the States had been such as it was not consistent with his glory to endure any longer.
If anything, indeed, could justify the arrogant tone assumed by Louis, the circumstances in which he found himself would have done so. An army of one hundred twenty thousand, able and well-equipped troops, commanded by Condé and Turenne, and numbering in its ranks volunteers of the noblest families in France eager to distinguish themselves under the eye of their sovereign; funds lavishly supplied by the able minister of finance, Colbert; with vast magazines of ammunition and every other necessary collected, and winter quarters secured in the neighboring and friendly territories of Cologne and Muenster, seemed means almost absurdly disproportioned in magnitude to the end to be attained. At the same time he was but too well informed of the defenseless condition of the enemy. Jan de Witt and the States conceived that his first attempt would be upon Maestricht, the possession of which he was known to have long coveted, and that the difficulties of its conquest would be sufficient to deter from further enterprise a monarch of whose military prowess no very high idea was entertained, and who was supposed to be far more enamored of the pomp and circumstance of war than of its toils and dangers. They accordingly fortified and provided Maestricht with the utmost care, leaving the frontier towns on the Rhine in an utterly inefficient state of defense. Aware of this fact, Louis commenced his operations on the side of Cleves, and, separating his army into four divisions, laid siege simultaneously to as many places. He himself summoned the town of Rhynberg, the Duke of Orleans sat down before Orsay, Condé was commanded to reduce Wesel, and Turenne, Burick. All surrendered within a week. To give an account of the capture of the towns which followed, would be but to heap example upon example of cowardice or treachery, or — as they are generally found together — both.
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