Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XI. - The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland
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CHAP. XI. - Pieter de la Court, The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland 
The True Interest and Political Maxims of the Republic of Holland (London: John Campbell, Esq, 1746).
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That Holland heretofore, under the government of a single person, was in continual tumults and broils. And that under a free government it ought, and can defend it self against all foreign power better than formerly.
Advisedly to consider whether Holland can subsist against all potentates,BEcause in the foregoing chapters, which treat of Holland’s making or not making alliances with its neighbours, it could be shewn only in part and by accident, that Holland effectually minding its own interest, can make a state in Europe independent of any other, and not to be overpowered by any foreign force: and that on the other side, there are many magistrates of opinion, or at least have been so, that Holland ought not only to be joined by the union of Utrecht, but also by a governor or captain-general, to all the other United Provinces; because if that province should happen to be abandoned by the rest, they say, it would by no means defend itself in time of war against a powerful enemy:We must not regard what flattering courtiers have given out; but to whom we may add the courtiers, and other flatterers of the stadtholder’s court, who have for a long time made the common inhabitants of the United Provinces believe, that all those countries united would not be able to repel the force of Spain with their own strength; and that therefore one permanent illustrious captain-general and stadtholders is very necessary for us, that by his interest and favour we may be able to obtain succours of France, England, or Germany, against Spain. For these reasons, and on account of the weight of the subject, upon which most of all that is here treated, or shall be said hereafter, depends, I find myself obliged to represent the same more at large, and that effectually.
A ruler that governs as if his state could not be secure, acts like a monster;In the first place it is evident, that there can be nothing more shameful nor prejudicial for a sovereign free government, than to hold for a maxim in the publick management of their affairs, that in a time of war they are not able to subsist against all their neighbours and states, whoever they be: for such governors do thereby make the welfare of their native country dependent upon those more powerful states, and content themselves of rulers to become subjects: which is the most miserable condition that any country can fall into by unsuccessful war.
And indeed if we may justly blame a sick person, who because he thinks he is mortally sick, will therefore use no physician;Because he not only neglects himself, but also his innocent subjects. we ought much more to blame those rulers, who by base and degenerate maxims lay aside the use of all wisdom, care and power, to strengthen and defend their country to the utmost extremity: for we might excuse the folly of a sick person, because what he does is at his own peril. And because every one is lord of his own, neither can it be simply said that he increases his distemper by neglecting the use of physick. But a magistrate, who is by nature and by his oath to provide for the welfare of his subjects, and to defend them against all force, ought to be accounted the most infamous of men if he neglects that duty.
If then by such ill maxims he uses the strength of his own country and subjects to give advantages to another, and is not only careless of his own, but of the welfare of his innocent people, he tempts his insolent neighbours, and perfidious allies, to attack and ruin his country in that unarmed condition: whereas, if he had made such provision for the publick defence as he ought, they would have been deterred from any attempt, and have continued peaceable and quiet. For as occasion makes the thief, and every one will climb over into the garden where the wall is lowest; so likewise the goods of unarmed people are ever common: but one sword keeps another in the scabbard; and two curst dogs seldom bite one another.
Deduction, part 2. ch. 3. fol. 6. Holland hath stood of it self 700 years together.But to come nearer to the matter in hand, I shall premise in the general, from the credit of undoubted history, that most of these Netherlandish provinces, especially Holland, whilst for many ages they were governed by earls and captains-general, not only lived in continual dissention and division, but were in perpetual war one against the other, as well as against their lords, and those that depend on them, unchristianly shedding one another’s blood: and the reason of it is very evident;It had breaches and tumults during the government of the earls and capt. generals. for tho’ the interest of such lords is often different from that of the state, and contrary to the common good of the people, yet have they very many persons that depend on them, and are of great power in the government; by which means it infallibly happens, (unless such lords could be divested of human nature) that they will endeavour many times to advance their own particular interests, with the assistance of their favourites and dependents: against which all good magistrates, who value the common happiness above all things, and esteem the welfare of the people to be the supreme law, are necessitated, in discharge of their duty, to exert themselves vigorously against such persons, without fear of their displeasure; and by this means the community falls into great divisions. For on the one side, the lord will not, and, according to the rules of the world, may not bow or comply, because his honour and authority stands engaged. And on the other side, the honest magistrates, relying on their consciences as on a wall of brass, will not be drawn from their necessary resolution;Because in those divisions they sought their own advantage. and if in so dangerous a conjecture the lord happen to be of a violent temper, or apt to be seduced by violent counsels, that country is often brought to great extremities.
And yet we know that notwithstanding these intestine disorders, suspicions and animosities, the Hollanders preserved and defended themselves against all foreign force. And it appears, by the negotiations of the president Jeannin, that prince Maurice, and his partisans, in the year 1608, was of opinion, that Zealand alone, parted from the other United Provinces, was able to defend itself against all the power of Spain; upon which the other provinces declared not to agree to a truce, but to continue the war.
Holland anciently much weaker than at present.This being premised in general, I come now to the matter in particular. In the first place, antient histories inform us, that Holland, before the breaking in of the inlet of the Texel, about the year 1170, according to Goederd Pantalcon, published by M. Vossius, or, as others say, about the year 1400, being destitute of the Zuyder-Sea, lay joined to Friesland, Overyssel and Guelderland, or at most was parted by the Rhine and Vlie, as before the year 1421; and before the land near Dort was overflown, Holland on that side lay joined to Brabant, and consequently had many more frontiers than now. And moreover it is evident, that these inland provinces had fewer cities, and less populous, and was therefore, in respect of their neighbours, every way weaker and poorer than at present.
Yet hath at all times defended it self well. P. Borre, book 23. fol. 56.And yet the states of Holland and West Friesland, from the unanimous consent of all our antient historians, inform us in their remonstrance to the earl of Leicester in 1587, that these lands (their lordships speaking of Holland with West-Friesland and Zealand) have for the most part been victorious against all their enemies, and have so well defended their frontiersagainst their adversaries, however powerful, that they have always had a good esteem and reputation among their neighbours: at least we may say with truth, that the countries of Holland and Zealand, for the space of 800 years, have never been conquered by the sword, or subdued either by foreign or intestine wars. Which cannot be said of any other dominions, unless of the republick of Venice. Thus far the said states.
Even against the king of Spain, heretofore very formidable.2. It is notorious, that the provinces of Holland and West-Friesland never had more powerful neighboursthan the kings of Spain, who having been earls of Holland and Zealand, and still claiming a right to that dominion, had an incredible advantage above all other neighbours to reduce these countries under their power, which were very much divided by many differences about religion and other matters; and yet Holland and Zealand alone, after they had supported a few sieges with resolution, so broke the formidable power of that wise and absolute monarch Philip II. of Spain, that other provinces afterwards by their example dared to resist him.
So that the other United Provinces have not brought Holland and Zealand into a condition of freedom, but Holland and Zealand them. And it is to be considered, that the other provinces (Utrecht excepted) have added nothing to strengthen and fortify the free government of Holland, or to free that province from any inconvenience to this day.Who was not only beat off, but other united provinces in the mean time fortified by Holland; But, on the contrary, Holland alone erected the commonwealth-government for the benefit of the other provinces, and has done so much for the other provinces, that every one of them (except Utrecht, which has always run the same adventure with us, is now provided with well fortified cities, magazines, ammunition of war, provision, and soldiers in garrison; or, to say better, inhabitants, who daily receive their pay out of Holland. And moreover, divers cities and forts in Brabant, Flanders,Cleve, East-Friesland, Drente, and Netherland, have been conquered, fortified, and provided with soldiers, provisions, and ammunition of war necessary for their defence at the expence of Holland.
In comparison whereof what the other provinces contributed was of little value.Against this, if any will object that Holland in the distribution of taxes pays no more than fifty-eight guilders six stivers 2½ pence in the hundred for their share, and consequently the other United Provinces have in some measure helped to bear the charge of the war: we might truly answer, that Guelderland and Overyssel contributed nothing to the charge of the army to the time of the truce; and that to the year 1607, we were necessitated at our own charge to compel Groeningen to bring in its proportion for the war by means of a castle and garrison. And it is certain that afterwards the yearly demand, or request of the council of state for taxes to pay the armies in the time of Frederick Hendrick prince of Orange, was purposely raised so high, that half the sum would very near defray that charge.Aitzma’s hist. lib. 32. pag. 774. So that when the said captain-general had once obliged the province of Holland to give their consent to the sum required, he used not much to trouble himself for that of the other provinces. And we have often seen, that in the hottest of the war against Spain, and in the former war against England, together with the eastern and northern war, as well as in the last English war, they have often refused to consent to the publick supplies; and more often have only given their consent for form-sake, in order to induce the province of Holland to consent to the charge; and having done so, because they dared not to deny their consents for fear of incurring the prince’s displeasure, they remained in default of payment, without being compelled to bring in their promised proportions; because our captain-general had rather by such favours keep the other provinces at his devotion, and especially their deputies of the generality (amongst whom were several who with good reason were called the cabinet lords) that by them he might be able perpetually to over-vote the province of Holland, and make them dance to his pipe.See in the year 1662. Sept. 26. Resolution of the states of Holland by L. V. Aitzma, B. 42. p. 481. And this is the true reason of the many arrears of taxes which those provinces consented to raise, but have not brought in to this day. Tho’ (if we relapse not again under a new captain-general) expedients may be found and put in execution for recovery of them, and for prevention of the like for the future.
Holland in the interim compelled to bow and groan under the yoke of the captain gegerals.3. It is to be observed, that Holland during all these broils and hardships, was under the government of earls and stadtholders or captain-generals, who have ever sought their own private interest to the prejudice of these countries, and have from time to time raised and fomented those endless intestine divisions, in order to make a conquest of the estates and rights of the gentry and cities of Holland and West-Friesland; so that it remains abundantly evident, that all foreign wars have been carried on and finished only by a part, or divided power of this province.
Most of the provinces inriched with the money of Holland.4. It is likewise observable, that almost all the United Provinces have continually lived upon Holland, not only by their deputies in some college of the generality and other offices of judicature, polity, and the revenues; but also by great numbers of their gentry, and other inhabitants, who, by favour of the captain-general have found means to get into the most profitable commands in the army, and are to be paid by the states of Holland and West-Friesland;See catalogue of the generalities officers, in Aitzma B. 41. p. 232. and for that reason, even after the peace was concluded, kept those land-forces long in great pay against the will of Holland, tho’ they had during the war endlesly multiplied those offices, and profits. And ’tis yet more remarkable, that almost all the United Provinces have continually preyed upon Holland, by bringing in very many mere provincial charges to the account of the generality, in the annual petition of the council of state, that under this pretext they might make Holland pay yearly more than 58 per cent. of divers sums, of which in truth Holland owed not one penny.Deduct. 1. part. c. 9. §. 15. 2. part. c. 6. §. 17, to 26.
Holland has cast of the yoke of all its enemies, but that of her own ministers.So that I shall finish all these considerations with concluding, that the stout and powerful lion of Holland had formerly strength enough to repel all his foreign enemies, and those of his allies, viz. of the other United Provinces: but (God amend it) I must add, that this strong and victorious creature, to the year 1650, had not the soresight, or fortune to escape the snares which were laid by his own ministers and servants. For our histories tell us, that the earls of the house of Burgundy and Austria, did by degrees more and more bridle and curb the Holland lion; and it is also as evident, that our former stadtholders and captain-generals have very well been acquainted with the politick maxim of lording it over a country, and bringing it under subjection: that the most powerful provinces and the strongest cities, together with the best and most venerable magistrates, were most insulted and brought into the greatest slavery.
So that every one may judge, whether the said stadtholders, and captain-generals might not without difficulty lessen and depress Holland, with its antient and considerable gentry, strong cities, and venerable magistrates, and by that means increase their own power, since, in all colleges of the common union or generality, they could very easily engage the most voices, to over-vote and compel the province of Holland, even in such matters wherein plurality of votes should have no place, neither by the right of nature, right of justice, or the common union.
And let the reader enquire, weigh and consider, whether the stadtholders and captain-generals following the same maxims, have not in all the provinces, and especially in Holland, very often taken off the meanest and most indigent magistrates from seeking the country’s welfare, and drawn them to their party; that in conjunction with others like themselves, they may either over-vote those who are more able, and more affectionate to the lawful government, or by force of arms turn them out of their magistracy, and introduce other needy persons, and sometimes such as fly from justice, to serve in their places.
Besides which, our stadtholders and captain-generals have left our lion undefended against the new invented military arts; or to speak clearer, have left the cities without any more than their old fortifications, so that they are not tenable against the new invented art of taking towns.The states of Holland never so much opprest under the earls of Burgundy or of Austria, They have also fettered and manacled these countries, by means of garrisons and citadels placed in the conquered cities; and have so ordered matters, that most of the governments and chief military offices in Holland have been put into the hands of strangers, but ever of their relations, or creatures, and very seldom intrusted with the gentry of Holland, and lovers of their country.
So that the power of the captain-generals was even in the year 1618, grown so far above the former power of the antient earls;As under the stadtholders and captain-generals of the house of Orange. and on the other side, the power of our nobility and cities so much diminished, that tho’ many of them for very small usurpations and encroachments of their earls, dared to exclude them out of their castles and cities, yet there was not one city of Holland (tho’ they knew that prince Maurice as captain-general came to put out of office all magistrates that were lovers of their common freedom, and to remove them from their benches) that durst shut their gates, much less make head against, and drive him from their walls.Aitzma b. 33. pag. 809. So that about the year 1650, it might still be asked, * whether these countries, by their servants of the house of Nassau, or their lords of that of Austria, were in greater servitude. And farther, it is well known to all, that some ministers of this unhappy lion of Holland have endeavoured to break and destroy all its inward power, by causing the union made for general defence to be so ordered, that in reality it had the same effect in the state as a continual hectick fever in the body, causing us to take up so much money yearly at interest, and for payment of yearly interest already due, that in very few years it would have proved as a canker, and have consumed all its vital strength.
Holland now is better surrounded by the sea and rivers.And on the other side, it is remarkable what advantage time hath since given us, viz. first, That Holland is wholly surrounded with seas, or mighty rivers: in particular to the eastward by the north sea; to the southward by many islands, and great rivers, as the Maese, the Rhine, the Issel, in part begirting Holland; to the westward, and to the northward, by the mighty inlets of the Texel, and the Vlie, and likewise the Zuyder-Sea, and the Vecht encompassing this country in part towards the west: so that Holland is now in all respects inaccessible, or would be in time of war, unless to one that is master at sea. At least it is evident that Holland hath no community at all with the frontiers or limits of the land, save with some few conquered cities in Brabant, with a very small part of Guelderland, as also and especially with the province of Utrecht.
And provided with great and populous cities.Secondly, It is clear, that Holland is now more than ever furnished with many great and populous cities and towns, whose inhabitants, by trading in all the commodities of the world, have incredibly enriched themselves; while on the other side, Brabant and Flanders are become poorer and weaker.See Bentivoglio Relat. b. 1. c. 7. And it must be confessed, that the said traffick by sea hath improved Holland’s strength of shipping to a higher degree than ever it was formerly.
And with a free government.Thirdly, It must be acknowledged, that Holland is now governed after a free republican manner; and therefore its inhabitants are able to pursue their own interest with an undivided and unbroken power, and not to be terrified or constrained in time to come by any one eminent servant of the state with his adherents, or, by any ill-practised union or mis-led allies, to be over-voted, ensnared, and depressed to its own ruin.
While the Burgundian and Spanish princes remain in Spain.Fourthly, It is observable, that the formidable Burgundian and Austrian power, which formerly was so grievous to us, is now fixed in Spain, to govern from so great a distance those Netherlands that join to our frontiers, by delegated governors, and appointed captain-generals, officiating in their respective employment for a very short time. Since therefore they with slow and limited instructions, and tied up hands, cannot perform that service to those extreme jealous kings and councils of Spain to the prejudice of us, we in that respect need not to fear them.
And their power is every way diminished.Fifthly, It is evident that the king of Spain, heretofore our old and most formidable neighbour by land, is not only weakn’d in his dominions, by the defection of Portugal, but by his manifold losses of territories, and cities situate in Brabant, Flanders, Artois, &c. is become so inconsiderable, that to obtain a peace of us, he in the year 1648 found it his best course to resign up his right to the United Provinces, and especially to that of Holland, with whatever he might any way pretend to; so that we are now wholly fearless from that side.
So that Holland is now better able than ever to defend itself.All which past mischiefs, and present advantages of Holland, being thus well weighed, methinks I might generally infer, that Holland is much abler now than ever ’twas formerly to defend itself against all foreign enemies.
Against which it is objected, that Holland landward is worse fortified than ever, and the adjacent provinces and cities are very strong.But some may object, that Holland for fifty years past having abandoned its own defence, and reversed all good maxims, has so contrived and constituted matters, that we cannot be safe unless by means of the other provinces; and that all our great advantages of good situation, populousness, and God’s unspeakable blessings upon the diligence and frugality of the Hollanders, have only served to strengthen the other provinces and conquered cities, so as to render them impregnable: insomuch that they now have no more need of us, unless to draw money from us; and that on the other side, we have left ourselves naked of all means, both of defence and offence.
Deduct. Milit. §. 75. And hath not kept its right of giving commissions to her own officers without the province of Holland.They may also say, that at the great assembly held in the Hague in the year 1651, Holland granted to the generality, and the other provinces, the right of giving patents or commissions to all the military officers of the respective allies: so that it may be affirmed, that this province hath utterly divested themselves of all kind of respect or esteem from the soldiery, who yet are paid out of our purse; tho’ they are for the most part in garrisons out of the province of Holland, and that we have not preserved that natural right which we have over them. So that if we should want any companies for the service of our province, we should be forced as it were to petition to have them of our said allies.
To which may be added, that we have been burdened with so many impositions, that it is impossible they can be long born by a country that subsists not of its own fund, but of manufactures, fishing, trade and shipping, whilst we are burden’d with endless incankering sums taken up at interest. So that we might hence conclude, that Holland is not indeed esteemed considerable by any of her neighbours, or allies by land; and that we on the contrary must stand in fear of all our nearest neighbours that are well armed. And he that doubts of this, let him but consider that divers provinces during the first and second war, dared roundly to declare, that they would not bear the charge of any war by sea whatsoever it were.Aitzma, hist. of 1654. p. 144, 357, 358. Let them likewise take notice that the province of Holland to this day could never find any means to compel the provinces that are in arrear of their quota’s, to bring in their multiplied arrears, to which they gave their consent: and therefore Holland in respect of all its adjacent neighbours by land, seems in all regards to be weaker than ever it formerly was.
How this happened against all rules of good government.And in truth, if the province of Holland had not heretofore been compell’d by a captain-general and stadtholder, to suffer the things before-mentioned, I should much wonder that we have continued so long in such an ill state of government: for it has always been a custom in the world, that the weak, to the end they might be assisted in their distress against their enemies, should enrich the strong in a time of peace by a yearly payment of money; and that the strong having received much money and tribute, whether in times of peace or war, should for all that never assist their weak allies in their necessity, farther than might agree with their own interest:While our fishers and merchants are taken at sea. and certainly he is a fool in grain, who carries water to his neighbour’s house, whilst his own is burning. Moreover Holland hath been for more than fifty years successively either made, or left disarmed, to strengthen its neighbours, and to make them rather than themselves considerable: so that in case of a war with them, we might fear lest our small unfortified, and unprovided frontier cities, and possibly the other great cities too, because of their want of fortifications, and exercise of arms, tho’ they are stronger inwardly, might be surprized, and fall into our neighbours hands.
For, to speak truly, tho’ we have been like good wrestlers and fencers, able to defend ourselves with our own strength, yet we have suffered ourselves to be deluded into a belief, that we should be better defended in case we gave up our arms to certain famous fencers, or to neighbours that boast themselves to be better able to wrestle and fence than we, and consequently to expel an enemy; whereas they are visibly weaker of body than ourselves. So that we having for so long a time delivered up, and lent out our arms, are, for want of exercise and using the sword, really become totally disarm’d and weak; insomuch that in case our weak champions should come to a battel, not only they but we also should fall by the sword: and besides, our weak neighbouring champions who have borrowed our swords, are no less mischievous than any other people. And therefore we are to expect, that they not only design their own advantage, and neglect ours, but also will conceive and esteem their own burdens very heavy, and ours very light; for I would not say, they will use the arms and power they have borrowed of us to our ruin, whenever they can effect it to their advantage. By all which it appears, that Holland is now less defensible than ever.
But he that examines this general position on both sides, must acknowledge, that as this weakness of Holland was caused by their own stadtholder and captain-general: and on the other side, Holland by the present free government is enabled to make use of all its abundant inward strength for its own preservation, and with more ease than ever to repel all intestine and foreign force whatsoever. Now to the end this conclusion may the better appear, I shall in the next chapter endeavour to shew, that Holland distinctly, and in regard of all her neighbours, not comparatively, but effectually, may very well defend itself against all inward and outward force whatsoever.
[* ]Servire auriacis famulis, dominisque Philippis, Dic mihi conditio durior utra fuit?