Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX.: MAGNIFICENCE OF LOUIS XIV.—CONQUEST OF HOLLAND. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV)
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CHAPTER IX.: MAGNIFICENCE OF LOUIS XIV.—CONQUEST OF HOLLAND. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XII (Age of Louis XIV) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XII.
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MAGNIFICENCE OF LOUIS XIV.—CONQUEST OF HOLLAND.
Louis XIV., being obliged to remain peaceable for some time, continued, as he had begun, to regulate, fortify, and embellish his kingdom. His example showed that an absolute prince, who has good intentions, can compass the greatest things without difficulty. He had only to command; and the successes in the administration were no less rapid than his conquests had been. It was a thing truly wonderful to see the seaports, which were in a manner desolate and in ruins, now surrounded with works which served at once for their ornament and defence, full of shipping and seamen, and containing upward of sixty large vessels, which might occasionally be fitted for war. New colonies were every day sailing from all the ports in the kingdom, under the protection of the French flag, for America, the East Indies, and the coast of Barbary. At the same time, thousands of hands were employed at home under the king’s eye, in raising immense edifices, and in all the arts which architecture introduces; while those of the more noble and ingenious kind embellished the court and capital, and diffused a degree of delight and fame over the kingdom, of which the preceding age had not even an idea. Literature flourished, and good taste and sound reasoning made their way into the schools of error and barbarism. But a more circumstantial account of these things, which made the happiness and glory of France, will be found in their proper place in this work; at present we must confine ourselves to general and military affairs.
At this period Portugal exhibited a strange spectacle to the rest of Europe. Don Alphonso, the unworthy son of the fortunate Don John of Braganza, reigned in that kingdom. He was a weak and hot-headed man. His wife, a daughter of the duke of Nemours, had conceived a passion for his brother, Don Pedro, and had the boldness to form a design of dethroning her husband and marrying the man she loved. The brutality of her husband in some measure justified this bold attempt of the queen’s. Alphonso was of a more than common bodily strength: he had had a child by a courtesan, whom he publicly acknowledged for his own: he had for a long time cohabited with his wife, and yet, notwithstanding all this, she accused him of impotence, and having by her dexterous management acquired that authority in the kingdom which her husband had lost by his mad frenzy, she shut him up in a prison, and obtained a dispensation from the pope to marry her brother-in-law. It is not in the least surprising that the court of Rome should grant these dispensations; but it is extraordinary that those who have the power in their own hands should stand in need of them. This event, which affected only the royal family, and caused no revolution in the kingdom of Portugal, nor produced any change in the affairs of Europe, merits our attention only on account of its singularity.
France soon afterward gave asylum to a king who descended from the throne in another manner; this was John Casimir, king of Poland, who renewed the example of Queen Christina. Tired by the fatigues of government, and desiring to live happily, he chose Paris for the place of his retreat, and retired to the abbey of St. Germain, of which he was abbot. Paris, which had for some years past been the abode of all the arts, afforded a delightful residence for a prince who sought the enjoyment of social pleasures, and was a lover of learning. He had been a Jesuit and a cardinal, before he was king; and now, equally disgusted with the regal and ecclesiastical state, was only desirous of living as a private person and a philosopher, and would never suffer the title of majesty to be given him at Paris.
But an affair of a more interesting nature took up the attention of all the Christian potentates.
The Turks, who, though not so formidable as under their Mahomets, their Selims, and their Solymans, were still dangerous, and strengthened by our divisions, had been laying siege to the island of Candia for over two years, with all the forces of the empire. We can hardly say whether it was more astonishing that the Venetians made so long a defence, or that the princes of Europe should have abandoned them.
Times were greatly changed. Formerly, when Christendom was in a barbarous state, a pope, or even a monk, could send forth millions of Christians to make war upon the Mahometans in their own empire: our dominions were stripped of men and money, to make the conquest of the wretched and barren province of Judæa; and now that the island of Candia, deemed the bulwark of Christendom, was overrun by sixty thousand Turks, the Christian kings looked on with indifference while it was lost. A few galleys sent by the Maltese and the pope were the only reinforcements this republic received to defend itself against the whole Ottoman Empire. The senate of Venice, with all its prudence, was unable with such weak aid to withstand the grand vizier, Kiuperli, who was an able minister, a still more able general, and master of the Turkish Empire, assisted by a formidable army, and even provided with good engineers.
Louis vainly attempted to set the other princes of Europe an example in assisting Candia. The galleys and ships of war which he had newly built in the port of Toulon transported thither seven thousand men, under the command of the duke of Beaufort: but this assistance proved too weak in this dangerous juncture, no other court choosing to imitate the generosity of France.
A private French gentleman, named la Feuillade, did an action on this occasion which had no example but in the old times of chivalry. He carried nearly three hundred gentlemen over to Candia at his own expense, though he had but a moderate fortune. If any other nation had assisted the Venetians in the same proportion with la Feuillade, it is more than probable that the island might have been saved. These reinforcements, however, only served to retard its fall for some days, and to spill a great deal of blood to no purpose. The duke of Beaufort was killed in a sally; and the city, reduced to a heap of ashes, capitulated on Sept. 16, 1669.
At this siege, the Turks had showed themselves superior even to the Christians, in the knowledge of the military art. The largest cannon which had hitherto been seen in Europe were cast in their camp. They were the first who drew parallel lines in the trenches. It is from them that we learned this custom; but they were indebted for it to an Italian engineer. It is certain that a victorious people, such as the Turks were, with their experience, courage, riches, and that unwearied perseverance which was their distinguishing characteristic, might have conquered Italy, and made themselves masters of Rome in a very little time; but the dastardly emperors they have since had, their bad generals, and their faulty administration have preserved Christendom.
The king, little affected with these distant events, waited only for the ripening of his grand project of conquering all the Netherlands, and beginning by Holland. The opportunity became every day more favorable. This little republic was mistress of the seas, but by land nothing could be more weak. In alliance with England and Spain, and at peace with France, she placed too much security in treaties, and the advantages accruing from an immense trade: and with a well-disciplined and invincible naval power her land forces were as badly provided and contemptible. The cavalry was composed only of burghers, who never stirred out of their houses, and paid the dregs of the people to do duty in their stead. The infantry was nearly upon the same footing. Commissions in the army, and even the command of garrison towns, were given to children, or to the relations of burgomasters, brought up in idleness and inexperience, who considered their posts in the same light as priests do their benefices. The pensionary, John de Witt, endeavored to reform this abuse; but he did not endeavor sufficiently, and this was one of the great faults of this famous republican.
In order to facilitate Louis’s scheme, it was previously necessary to detach England from its alliance with the Dutch, whose ruin seemed inevitably to follow upon their being deprived of this support. The king found it no difficult matter to persuade Charles II. to concur in his designs. This monarch was not much affected by the disgrace thrown upon his reign and the English nation, when his ships were burned in the river Thames by the Dutch fleet. He entertained no thoughts of revenge or conquest. He was desirous of enjoying a life of pleasure, and reigning as much as possible without control. This was his weak side; accordingly Louis, who had only to speak the word, and be supplied with what money he had occasion for, promised Charles a very considerable sum, who was not able to raise any himself without the concurrence of his parliament. This secret alliance between the two kings, which was formed in 1670, was known to no one in France but to the king’s sister-in-law, to Louvois, and Turenne.
A young princess, then, who was only twenty-five years of age, was the plenipotentiary pitched upon to put the finishing hand to this treaty with Charles. A visit which the king was to make to his new conquests of Dunkirk and Lille served as a pretence for his sister-in-law’s journey over to England. The pomp and grandeur of the ancient kings of Asia were nothing in comparison with the magnificence of this excursion. The king was always preceded or followed by thirty thousand men while on the road, some of whom were destined to reinforce the garrisons of the conquered countries, others to work at the fortifications, and the rest to level the roads. His majesty was also accompanied by the queen, his consort, all the princesses of the blood, and the most beautiful ladies of his court, among whom his sister-in-law shone with a superior lustre, and secretly enjoyed the glory and satisfaction of all this parade, which was wholly on her account. It was one continual feast from St. Germain to Lille.
The king, willing to gain the hearts of his new subjects, and to dazzle the eyes of the neighboring states, distributed his liberalities wherever he came, to a degree of profusion. The most magnificent presents were lavished on everyone who had the least pretext for speaking to him. Princess Henrietta embarked at Calais to pay a visit to her brother, who had already come as far as Canterbury to receive her. Charles, blinded by the love he bore his sister, and the great sums promised him from France, signed everything that Louis XIV. desired, and laid a foundation for the ruin of Holland, in the midst of feastings and diversions.
The loss of the duchess of Orleans, who died in a sudden and shocking manner, immediately upon her return from England, drew great suspicions upon the duke of Orleans, her husband, but made no alteration in what had been resolved upon between the two kings. The spoils of the republic they had devoted to destruction were already shared by the secret treaty between them, in the same manner as Flanders had been shared between the Dutch and the French in 1635. Thus states frequently change their views, their alliances, and their enmities, and are not unfrequently disappointed in all their projects. The rumor of this approaching expedition began to spread abroad, but Europe listened to it without being stirred. The emperor, taken up with seditions in Hungary, the Swede lulled asleep by negotiations, and the Spanish monarchy still weak and ever irresolute and slow in its determinations, left Louis XIV. to follow the career of his ambition uninterrupted.
To complete its misfortune, Holland was at that time divided into two factions, the one composed of rigid republicans, to whom the least shadow of absolute authority seemed a monster contrary to the laws of human society; the other of republicans of a more moderate disposition, who were desirous of investing the young prince of Orange, afterward the famous William III., with the posts and dignities of his ancestors. The grand pensionary, John de Witt, and his brother Cornelius, were at the head of the rigid sticklers for liberty; but the young prince’s party began to gain ground. The republic was more attentive to its domestic dissensions than to the danger which threatened it from without, and thus contributed to its own ruin.
Louis not only purchased the king of England, but he brought over the elector of Cologne, and the famous Van Galen, bishop of Münster, who was greedy for war and plunder, and was naturally an enemy to the Dutch. Louis had formerly assisted them against the bishop, and now joined with him for their destruction. The Swedes, who had joined with the republic in 1668, to check the progress of a conqueror who had then no designs against them, abandoned her as soon as they saw her threatened with ruin, and renewed their old connections with France, on condition of receiving the former subsidies.
It is somewhat singular and worthy of remark that of all the enemies who were about to fall upon this petty state, there was not one that could allege a lawful pretext for entering into the war. This was much such an undertaking as the league between Louis XII., the emperor Maximilian, and the king of Spain, who entered into a covenant to destroy the republic of Venice, only for being rich and haughty.
The states-general, in the utmost consternation, wrote to the king, beseeching him in the humblest manner to let them know if the great preparations he was making were really destined against them, his ancient friends and faithful allies. They asked how they had offended him, or what satisfaction he required. To these remonstrances he returned the answer that he should employ his troops in such manner as became his dignity, for which he should be accountable to no one. All the reasons his ministers could give were that the writer of the Dutch Gazette had been too insolent, and that Van Beuning was said to have caused a medal to be struck reflecting upon the honor of Louis XIV. Van Beuning’s Christian name was Joshua. A taste for devices prevailed at that time in France. Louis XIV. had taken a sun for his, with this legend: “Nec pluribus impar.” Now, it was pretended that Van Beuning, in the medal in question, which, however, never had existence, was represented with a sun, and these words for the motto: In conspectu meo stetit sol: “At sight of me the sun stood still.” It is certain that the states-general had ordered a medal to be struck, expressing all the glorious deeds of the republic in the following legend: “Assertis legibus, emendatis sacris, adjutis, defensis, conciliatis regibus, vindicata marium libertate, stabilita oribis Europæ quiete:” “The laws asserted, religion amended, princes succored, defended, and reconciled; the freedom of the ocean vindicated, and peace restored to Europe.”
In all this they boasted of nothing more than they had done, and yet they ordered the mould of this medal to be destroyed in order to appease Louis’s anger.
The king of England on his side pretended that their fleet denied the honors due to the English flag, by refusing to lower their topsails to an English pleasure-boat, and complained of a certain picture in which Cornelius de Witt, the pensionary’s brother, was painted with the ensigns of a conqueror. On the background the painter had exhibited a representation of ships on fire. The truth is, that Cornelius de Witt, who bore a considerable share in the maritime exploits against England, had indulged himself in this trifling monument of his fame; but the picture itself was in a manner unknown, and hung in a room where hardly anyone ever entered. The English ministers, who had transmitted their master’s pretended grievances in writing to the states-general, made mention of certain “abusive pictures.” Now, the Dutch, who always translate the memorials of foreign ministers into French, had rendered the term “abusive,” by the French word fautis, trompeurs, false or lying pictures; upon which they answered that they did not know what was meant by “lying pictures;” in short, they never once conceived that it related to this portrait of their fellow-citizen, nor could they imagine this to be a pretext for the war.
All that the efforts of ambition and human foresight could devise for the destruction of a nation was put in practice by Louis XIV. The history of mankind hardly furnishes us with an instance of such formidable preparations being made for so small an expedition. Of all the different conquerors that have invaded a part of the world, not one ever began the career of conquest with so many regular troops and so much money as Louis employed in subduing the petty state of the United Provinces. No less than fifty millions, which were worth ninety-seven millions of our present currency, were expended in these pompous preparations. Thirty men of war, of fifty guns each, joined the English fleet, consisting of a hundred sail. The king, accompanied by his brother, the duke of Orleans, marched at the head of one hundred and twelve thousand men toward Maestricht and Charleroi, on the frontiers of Spanish Flanders and Holland. The bishop of Münster and the elector of Cologne had about twenty thousand more. Prince Condé and Marshal Turenne were the generals of the king’s army, and the duke of Luxembourg commanded under them. Vauban had the direction of the sieges. Louvois was present in all places, with his customary vigilance. Never was there an army so magnificent, and at the same time so well disciplined; but the king’s household troops, which were newly reformed, made a most glorious spectacle. They consisted of four companies of gardes du corps, or body-guards, each company composed of three hundred gentlemen, among whom were a considerable number of young cadets, who served without pay, but were equally subject to strict military discipline with the rest; two hundred gendarmes of the guard, two hundred light horse, five hundred musketeers, three hundred chosen gentlemen remarkable for their youth and handsome appearance, twelve companies of gendarmerie, since augmented to the number of sixteen; even the hundred Swiss regiment accompanied the king on this occasion, and the royal regiment of French and Swiss guards mounted before the house where he took up his residence, or at the door of his tent. These troops, the greater part of whom were covered with gold and silver, were at once the object of terror and admiration to a people who were strangers to all kinds of magnificence; and the exact discipline which was kept up in this army made it appear in a different light from any that had yet been seen. There were at that time no inspectors of the horse and foot, as there have since been; but these offices were performed by two men who were singular in their way. Martinet put the infantry upon the footing of discipline in which we now see it; and the chevalier de Fourilles did the same by the cavalry. Martinet had, a year before, introduced the use of the bayonet among some of the regiments: before him it had never been made use of in a constant or uniform manner. This last effort of what perhaps is the most terrible of the whole military art was already known, but had been little practised, because spears were still much in use. This same officer likewise invented copper boats for bridges, which might easily be transported in wagons, or on horseback. The king, confident of success and glory from all these advantages, carried along with him a historian to write his conquests. This was Pellisson, of whom mention will be made in the article of polite arts, a person whose talent lay more in good writing than avoiding flattery.
Against the great Condé, Turenne, Luxembourg, Vauban, an army of one hundred and thirty thousand men, an incredible train of artillery, and immense sums of money to bribe the fidelity of those who commanded garrison towns, what had the republic of Holland to oppose? A young prince of weak constitution, who had never seen a battle or a siege, and about twenty-five thousand bad soldiers, which were all the strength of the country. William, prince of Orange, who was about twenty-two years old, had lately been elected captain-general of the land forces, in spite of the opposition of John de Witt, who could no longer withstand the wishes of the nation. This prince, under the Dutch phlegm, concealed an ardent ambition and love of glory, which ever afterward manifested itself in his conduct, without ever appearing in his discourse. He was of a cold and sour disposition, but of an active and penetrating genius. His courage, which never abandoned him, supported his feeble and languid body under fatigues which seemed above his strength. He was valiant without ostentation, ambitious without being fond of vainglory, and endowed by nature with a phlegmatic obstinacy, formed for combating adversity. He delighted in war and politics, and was equally a stranger to the joys of society, or the pleasures attendant upon greatness; in a word, he was in almost every respect the direct opposite to Louis XIV.
He was at first unable to stem the torrent which overflowed his country; his forces were but inconsiderable, and even his authority was greatly limited by the states. The whole power of France was ready to fall upon a republic which had nothing to defend it. The imprudent duke of Lorraine, who endeavored to raise troops in order to join his fortune with that of the republic, had just beheld his country seized upon by the French troops, with as much facility as they can seize upon Avignon on any quarrel with the papal see.
In the meantime the king caused his armies to advance on the side of the Rhine, into those countries which border upon Holland, Cologne, and Flanders. He ordered money to be distributed among the inhabitants of all the villages which were likely to suffer from the march of his troops through them. If a private gentleman made the least complaint to him, he was sure of being dismissed with a present. An envoy being sent from the governor of the Netherlands to make a representation of some disorders committed by the soldiers, the king with his own hand presented him with his picture, richly set in diamonds, and valued at over twelve thousand francs. This behavior attracted the admiration of the people, and made them stand more in awe of his power.
The king was at the head of his household, and a body of his choicest troops, in all amounting to thirty thousand men. Turenne had the command under him. Prince Condé was likewise at the head of as strong an army. The other corps, commanded alternately by Luxembourg and Chamilly, occasionally formed separate armies, which could all join one another in case of necessity.
The campaign was opened by the siege of four towns at once, Rheinberg, Orsoi, Wesel, and Borbeck; names which merit a place in this history only on account of the event. These were taken almost as soon as they were invested; Rheinberg, which the king thought proper to besiege in person, did not stand a single attack; and, in order to make more sure of its reduction, means had been found to corrupt the lieutenant of the garrison, one Dosseri, an Irishman, who, after having been base enough to sell his trust, was so imprudent as to retire to Maestricht, where the prince of Orange punished his treachery with death.
All the strongholds on the Yssel capitulated. Some of the garrisons sent the keys of their town as soon as they perceived two or three squadrons of the French appear in sight. Several officers fled from the towns where they were in garrison, even before the enemy had entered their territories: in short, the consternation was general. The prince of Orange had not a sufficient force to take the field. All Holland prepared to submit to the yoke as soon as the king should cross the Rhine. The prince of Orange caused lines to be drawn with the utmost haste on the other side the river; and even after he had done this, he was sensible how impossible it was for him to defend them. Nothing now remained but to discover, if possible, in what part the French intended to throw over a bridge, in order to oppose their passage. In fact, it was the king’s intention to pass the river on a bridge of those little copper boats, invented by Martinet. At that time the prince of Condé had received information from some of the country people that the dryness of the season had formed a ford on a branch of the Rhine, near an old castle, which served as an office for the toll-gatherers, and was called Toll Huis, or the Toll-house. The king ordered this ford to be sounded. According to Pellisson, who was an eye-witness of the whole, there was not above forty or fifty paces to swim over in the midst of this arm of the river. This was in fact nothing, for a number of horses abreast entirely broke the current of the water, which was of itself very weak. The landing on the opposite side was very easy, as it was defended only by four or five hundred horsemen, and two weak regiments of foot, without any cannon. The French artillery played upon those in flank, while the household troops, and some of the best of the cavalry, crossed the river without any hazard, to the number of fifteen thousand men. Condé crossed at the same time in one of the copper boats. Some few Dutch officers, who at first made a show of advancing into the water in order to oppose their landing, took to their heels the instant the French troops drew near to the shore, unable to stand before the multitude which came pouring on them. The foot immediately laid down their arms, and called for quarter. This passage was effected with the loss of only a few drunken horsemen, who had swum out of their depth; and there would not have been a single life lost that day—June 12, 1672—had it not been for the imprudence of the young duke of Longueville, who, being, it is said, overheated with wine, fired his pistol at some of the enemy’s people, who had laid down their arms and were begging their lives, crying out, “Give the scoundrels no quarter;” and drawing his trigger, shot an officer dead. Upon this the Dutch infantry, in a fit of despair, instantly flew to their arms and made a general discharge, by which the duke of Longueville himself was killed. A captain of their horse, named Ossembrouk, who had not fled with the rest, rode up to the prince of Condé, who had just reached shore and was going to mount his horse, and pointed his pistol at his head. The prince, by a sudden motion of his body, turned aside the piece, and received only a wound in his wrist, which was the first wound he had ever received in all his campaigns. The French immediately fell upon the small body, sword in hand, who began to fly on all sides. In the meantime the king crossed the river with the rest of the army, on a bridge of boats.
Such was the passage of the Rhine; an action which made a great noise, was singular in its kind, and was celebrated at that time as one of those great events which ought to occupy the memory of mankind. The air of greatness with which the king performed all his actions, the rapid success of his victories, the glory of his reign, the adulation of his courtiers, and, lastly, the fondness which the common people, especially those of Paris, have in general for everything that appears extraordinary, or else that ignorance of military operations, which prevails among those who pass a life of idleness in great cities, made this passage of the Rhine appear a prodigy. It was the common opinion, that the whole army swam across the river in presence of the enemy, intrenched on the opposite side, and in defiance of the fire from an impregnable fortress, called the Toll-house. It is a certain truth, that the enemy themselves were greatly imposed upon in this affair, and that if they had had a body of good troops on the other side of the river, the attempt would have been extremely dangerous.
As soon as the French army had passed the Rhine, it took Doesborgh, Zütphen, Arnheim, Nosembourg, Nimeguen, Skenk, Bommel, and Crèvecœur, and there was hardly an hour in the day in which the king did not receive the news of some fresh conquest. An officer, named Mazel, sent Turenne word that, if he would send him fifty horse, he would engage to make himself master of two or three places.
The inhabitants of Utrecht sent the keys of their city to the conqueror, and it capitulated, together with the whole province which bears its name. Louis made his entry into this city in triumph, on June 20, 1672, accompanied by his high-almoner, his confessor, and the titular bishop of Utrecht. The high church was with great solemnity delivered up to the Catholics; and the bishop of Utrecht, who had hitherto only held the empty title, was now for a little time put in possession of the real dignity.
The provinces of Utrecht, Overyssel, and Guelders were actually reduced, and Amsterdam only waited the hour of its slavery or destruction. The Jews settled there made interest with Gourville, the prince of Condé’s confidant and chief manager of his affairs, to accept two millions of florins, to save them from being plundered.
Naarden, which is in the neighborhood of Amsterdam, was already taken. Four horsemen, who were on a marauding party, advanced to the very gates of Muiden, which is not above a mile from Amsterdam, and where are the sluices by which the country may be laid under water. The magistrates, struck with a panic at the sight of these four soldiers, came out and offered them the keys of the town; but at length perceiving that no other troops came up, they took back the keys and shut the gates again. A moment’s more diligence would have put Amsterdam into the king’s hands. This capital once taken, not only the republic itself must have fallen, but there would no longer have been such a republic as Holland, and even the country itself would have been annihilated. Some of the richest families, and those who were most zealous lovers of liberty, were preparing to fly to the extremity of the globe, and embark for Batavia. There was actually a list made out of the shipping fit for undertaking this voyage, and a calculation of the numbers they would carry; when it was found that fifty thousand families might be thus transported into their new country. Holland then would have existed only in the East Indies: its provinces in Europe, who purchase their corn wholly with the riches they import from Asia, who subsist wholly upon their commerce and their liberty, if I may use that expression, would have been almost in an instant depopulated and ruined. Amsterdam, the staple and warehouse of Europe, where three hundred thousand souls are daily employed in cultivating arts and trade, would have become one vast marsh. All the lands round about require an immense expense and thousands of men to raise their dikes: those would, in all probability, have been stripped at once of their inhabitants and riches, and at length buried under water.
The distresses of the state were still further increased by the divisions which commonly arise among unfortunate people, who impute to one another the public calamities. The grand pensionary, John de Witt, thought there was no other way left to save what remained of his wretched country but by suing to the victors for peace. Full of a republican spirit, and jealous of his personal authority, he dreaded the aggrandizement of the house of Orange still more than the conquests of the French king; on this account he had obliged the prince of Orange himself to swear to the observance of a perpetual edict, by which he, the prince, was excluded from the stadtholdership. Honor, authority, party spirit, and interest all combined to make de Witt a strenuous asserter of this oath; and he chose rather to see his country subdued by a victorious king, than under subjection to a stadtholder.
The prince of Orange, on his side, who had more ambition than de Witt, was as much attached to his country, more patient under public calamities, and expecting everything from time and his own unshaken constancy, tried all means to obtain the stadtholdership, and opposed a peace with as much vehemence as de Witt promoted it. The states, however, resolved to sue for peace in spite of the prince, but the prince was raised to the stadtholdership in spite of de Witt.
In 1672, four deputies arrived in the king’s camp, to implore mercy in the name of a republic, which, six months before, looked upon itself as the arbiter of kings. Louis’s ministers did not receive the deputies with that French politeness which blends the mildness of civility with the severity of government. Louvois, who was of a haughty and arrogant disposition, and seemed better suited to serve his master well than to make him beloved, received the suppliants in a disdainful manner, and even with insulting raillery. They were obliged to go back and forth several times before the king would deign to make his will known to them. At length they were told that his majesty decreed that the states-general should give up all the places they were in possession of on the other side of the Rhine, with Nimeguen, and several other towns and forts in the heart of their country; that they should pay him twenty millions of livres; that the French should be masters of transporting merchandise on all the principal roads in Holland, both by land and water, without ever paying any duty; that the Roman Catholic religion should be everywhere established; that the republic should send an extraordinary embassy to the French court every year, together with a golden medal, on which should be engraved a legend, importing that they held their freedom of Louis XIV.; lastly, that they should make satisfaction to the king of England, the elector of Cologne, and the bishop of Münster, who had joined in the desolation of their country.
A peace on these conditions, which were little better than articles of slavery, appeared insupportable; the haughtiness of the conqueror inspired the vanquished with a desperate courage, and it was unanimously resolved to die fighting. The hearts and hopes of everyone were now fixed upon the prince of Orange. The populace grew furious against the grand pensionary, who had asked for peace. The prince, by his politics, and his party, by their animosity, increased the ferment. An attempt was made upon the grand pensionary’s life; and afterward his brother Cornelius was accused of a design to murder the prince, and was put to the rack. In the midst of his tortures he repeated the beginning of this ode of Horace, “Justum & tenacem propositi virum,” which perfectly well suited with his condition and courage, and which may be thus translated, for the sake of those who do not understand Latin:
On Aug. 20, 1672, the two brothers were massacred at The Hague, by the mad multitude, after one of them had governed the state for over nineteen years, with the most unspotted integrity, and the other had defended it at the hazard of his life. The most shocking cruelties that could enter into the imagination of a furious populace were exercised upon their dead bodies. These barbarities are common in all nations; the French themselves had exercised them upon Marshal d’Ancre, Admiral Coligny, and others, for the populace is almost everywhere the same. They wreaked their revenge on all the pensionary’s friends; even de Ruyter himself, the republic’s admiral, and who was the only one who fought her battles with success, had his house at Amsterdam surrounded by assassins.
In the midst of this disorder and desolation the magistrates gave an example of integrity rarely found in republics. Those private persons who were possessed of bank notes, ran in crowds to the Bank of Amsterdam, apprehending that the public stock had been broken in upon: everyone was for being paid with the little money supposed to be left. The magistrates immediately ordered the vaults to be opened, when it was found entire, as it had been deposited there for more than sixty years. The money was still black and discolored, with the fire which had burned down the town-house several years before. The bank notes had been negotiated till that time, and the money had never been touched; everyone that chose to receive it was then paid with this money, in lieu of notes. So much integrity and so powerful a resource were at that time the more admirable, as Charles II. of England, not satisfied with the money he had received from France, and wanting a further supply to carry on his war against the Dutch and answer the expense of his pleasures, had lately turned bankrupt. If it was shameful in this monarch thus to violate public faith, it was no less glorious in the magistrates of Amsterdam to preserve it, at a time when they might have had a plausible excuse for failure.
To this republican virtue they added that courageous spirit which resorts to the utmost extremities in irremediable evils. They ordered the dikes which kept out the sea to be thrown down. The country seats, which are in prodigious numbers about Amsterdam, the villages, and the neighboring cities of Leyden and Delft, were in an instant laid under water. The peasant beheld his flocks drowned in the pastures, without once murmuring. Amsterdam stood like a vast fortress in the midst of the waves, encircled by ships of war, which had water enough to ride all around the city. The people suffered great want; they were particularly distressed for fresh water, which sold for six sous a pint; but these extremities seemed less grievous than slavery. It is a thing worthy of observation that Holland, thus distressed by land, and no longer a state, still retained its power at sea, which was this nation’s true element.
While Louis XIV. was crossing the Rhine, and reducing these provinces, the Dutch admiral, de Ruyter, with a hundred sail of men of war and fifty fireships, sailed for the English coast in quest of the combined fleets of the two sovereigns, who, notwithstanding they had united their forces by sea, were not able to fit out a naval armament superior to that of the Dutch. The English and Dutch fought like people accustomed to dispute the empire of the sea with each other. This battle, which was fought on June 7, 1672, near Solebay, lasted a whole day. De Ruyter, who gave the signal for beginning the engagement, attacked the English admiral’s ship, in which was the duke of York, the king’s brother. De Ruyter gained all the glory of this single combat; the duke of York was obliged to go on board another ship, and never faced the Dutch admiral afterward. The French squadron, consisting of thirty ships, had little share in this action; and so decisive was the fortune of this day, that it put the coast of Holland out of danger.
After this battle, de Ruyter, notwithstanding the fears and contradictions of his countrymen, conveyed the fleet from the East Indies safe to Texel; thus defending and enriching his country on one side, while she was falling, overwhelmed with ruin, on the other. The Dutch even kept up their trade, and no colors but theirs were to be seen in the Indian seas. One day the French consul told the king of Persia, that his master, Louis XIV., had conquered almost all Holland. “How can that be,” replied the monarch, “when there are now in the port of Ormus twenty Dutch ships for one French?”
The prince of Orange, however, had the ambition of being a good citizen. He made an offer to the state of the revenues of his posts, and of all his private fortune, toward the support of the common cause. He overflowed all the passes by which the French could penetrate into the rest of the country. By his prompt and secret negotiations he raised the emperor, the empire, the Spanish council, and the government of Flanders, from their lethargy: he even disposed the English court to listen to peace. In a word, Louis had entered Holland in May, and by the month of July all Europe was in confederacy against him.
Monterey, governor of Flanders, sent a few regiments privately to the assistance of the United Provinces. The emperor Leopold’s council likewise despatched Montecuculi, at the head of twenty thousand men; and the elector of Brandenburg took the field with twenty-five thousand troops, whom he kept in his own pay.
The king now quitted his army, as there were no more conquests to be made in a country that was overflowed. It was even become difficult to keep the provinces which had been conquered. Louis, desirous to secure the glory he had acquired, contented himself with having taken such a number of towns in the space of two months; and leaving Turenne and Luxembourg to finish the war, he returned to St. Germain about the middle of the summer, to enjoy his triumphs. But while his subjects were everywhere erecting monuments of his conquests, the powers of Europe were at work to snatch them out of his hands.