Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation XV, From Dutch Model to German Kings

Continuing from the last post, the story of the temporary Anglo-Dutch fusion and then moving onto the German kings of Britain.The invasion of late October was not strongly resisted, James fled London and then England, giving Parliament the pretext to declare that James had abdicated. His son was ignored with the falsehood pretext that he was not the son of James and his wife, but a baby smuggled into the royal chambers. All this evasion and pretence should not be allowed, in Burkean fashion, to conceal the reality that Parliament had asserted itself as the sovereign power in the country, and accordingly that the monarch reigned at its pleasure, which could be withdrawn. This was not a restoration but a very radical innovation.

On the conservative side, it was designed to maintain a religious settlement in which only members of the state church were full citizens, removing rights James had given to Catholics and also Protestant Dissenters. The immediate impact then was a major loss of religious freedom, though partly based on fear that ‘tolerance’ was a tactic only for James on the road to state enforcement of Catholicism. We will never know the truth of that.

William’s Dutch invasion did not inspire much of a war as James II’ authority collapsed quickly, but further violence was to come in Ireland until 1691 featuring sieges and major battles, with the French helping the Catholic Irish against the Dutch prince turned English monarch. There was war in Scotland until 1692, featuring one of the infamous events of Scottish history, the Glencoe Massacres of Scottish Jacobites (supporters of James). The massacre was partly the result of clan rivalry, but was certainly also the consequence of state policies.

The Dutch connection disappeared with William’s death, as he had no children and the throne passed to Mary’s sister Anne, ignoring of course the claims of ‘James III’, the exiled son of James II. However, the impact of the Dutch connection was not just in the person of William. His reign as William III (1688 to 1702) coincides with the foundation of the Bank of England in 1694, which took place in the context of Dutch investments in London and a strong Dutch influence as a model of Protestantism, science, crafts, public finances, naval and merchant fleets, trade and colonialism which preceded 1688, including the exile of the liberal political philosopher John Locke in the Netherlands from 1683 to 1688, and was intensified by the Dutch invasion/Glorious Revolution.

The Dutch Republic had shown how to fight wars through a reliable, credible form of public debt which Britain was able to use in eighteenth century wars. Generally, the temporary relationship between the two states, which was somewhere between mere alliance and full fusion, was important in enabling Britain to become the leading eighteenth century power in Europe for all the things associated with the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century.

The temporary semi-fusion of course had a drastic impact on British foreign and defence policy, which was now heavily oriented towards Dutch aims in northwestern Europe, and even the whole of Europe. Britain was heavily engaged in European politics, including wars, particularly the War of Spanish Succession (1701 to 1714), which led to Britain’s still current acquisition of Gibraltar on the southern tip of Spain and included one of the most famous victories of British military history, Blenheim, under on the most famous British generals, John Churchill (ancestor of Winston Churchill), Duke of Marlborough on German territory. The main aim of British participation was to prevent French domination of Europe, which was threatened by a French claim to the Spanish throne, and the possibility of over generous compensation to France if it gave up Spain, with regard to Spanish colonies and the parts of Italy dominated by Spain.

Moving back briefly to the period before James II, his brother Charles II, had a secret treaty with Louis XIV of France which meant that state policy was covertly guided by the French who were subsiding Charles. So the temporary semi-fusion with the Dutch Republic was itself nothing new in terms of British state policy coming under the influence of a European power, it was simply a more open form of it. Looking forward, William was succeed by Mary’s sister Anne.

Parliament then legislated for a Protestant only succession, which went to the Elector Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg, generally known as the Elector of Hanover. This family supplied British monarchs from 1714 to 1837. The legislation of Queen Anne’s time precluded military commitments to Hanover, but inevitably in practice the defence of Hanover and the protection of Hanover’s interests in Germany were a major consideration of state during that period. The first two Hanoverian monarchs were more German than English, though the third of the Hanoverian Georges, George III established himself as a largely popular archetype of supposed British character.

Next post: Britain in relation to some European nations

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6 thoughts on “Myths of Sovereignty and British Isolation XV, From Dutch Model to German Kings

  1. This is excellent, Dr Stocker, thank you.

    I have a couple of questions about the Dutch invasion of the UK that has been on my mind for ages. It is generally known that the Dutch Republic was the first world hegemon, followed by the UK, followed by the US. In each of these cases – the narrative goes – the preceding hegemon was “swallowed up” (a better term escapes me at the moment) by its replacement.

    For me, the shift from the UK to the US is easily understood: The British Empire’s wars against Germany forced it to become dependent on American capital and, eventually, American military/cultural might.

    The shift from the Netherlands to the UK has always been less clear to me, though. Was ‘William III’ also the ‘William of Orange’ that I have come across in my deplorably brief readings of Dutch history? I guess I could just consult wikipedia but I thought I’d seek a better source in you.

    William III’s reign lasted 14 years. You write that the relationship between the UK and the Netherlands oscillated between full fusion and mere alliance, so was this the case because William III had trouble with republicans in the Netherlands (as a mere prince in a heavily decentralized polity) during parts of his tenure as King of England? Did full fusion only occur when William III had control of both polities as King of one and “Grand Prince” of the other?

    • Brandon

      Yes William III is William of Orange. William III of England. Hereditary Prince of Orange, which is French land which had been owned by his family since 1515 due to the marriage of Nassau family (on the male side) to a Princess of Orange. The family kept the title of Orange, even after the territory was absorbed into the French state.

      I did not mean to say there was any point of complete fusion, just that such a situation was a possible outcome of first the republican revolution in England in the 1640s and then the union of the two territories through William III. Complete fusion was one extreme outcome, the opposite extreme outcome compatible with alliance of some kind was an inter-state treaty. Even that possibility collapsed in the 1640s due to competition between the Dutch and English states. The reign of William III raised the possibility of complete fusion, though I’m not aware of any serious attempt to bring it about. It was simply an extreme possibility creating a situation in which a Dutch prince reigned/ruled with separate status in England/Britain and the Dutch Republic, while Dutch influence spread in England in a way which seemed reasonably normal and tolerable. I’m not suggesting that fusion ever happened or was even a strong possibility, but that its possibility shifted the terms of English-Dutch relations away from inter-state relations to a kind of alliance stronger than a treaty in international relations at least while William was in place. As you note he had a complicated time in the Netherlands where the regents, the town merchant classes who dominated representative institutions pressed for a pure kind of republic with no governmental role for the Orange family. So integrated state emerged, the nature of the Dutch state was not completely settled and in England the legitimacy of a royal line that depended on the exclusion of James II and his descendants was not fully accepted until well into the 18th century, and Scotland was a separate kingdom with its own parliament until 1708, so fusing Dutch and English/British states would have been very complicated. In the 17th century those kinds of complicated arrangements still existed (they were dominant in the Middle Ages) but the trend was to more integrated nation states with unitary sovereignty/laws/institutions.

      On the fusion issue, it should be noted that the possibility was raised in the 1580s as a way of providing strength against the Spanish during the Dutch Revolt. The result was three years (largely forgotten in Britain) in which the Dutch Republic was a ‘protectorate’ of the English state, so a part of that state system. That arrangement did not take root and gave way to simple inter-statre alliance. So the issue of a merger of the states was there historically, somewhere in collective memory during the 17th century revolutions influencing ideas of the possible consequences first of two Protestant republics either side of the North Sea and of a Dutch prince taking throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

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