|Prince Willem V of Oranje
Prince Willem V was thus in control but only by the grace of Prussian bayonets when the French Revolution began to come to a boil and, given recent events, he was well aware of the danger of such ideology spreading. In 1792 the French declared war on Austria and prepared to invade Belgium where they expected popular support. The Prince of Orange, not being in the strongest position, held back. However, 1793 saw the regicide of King Louis XVI of France and every royal in Europe was instantly made aware of how serious this situation was. On February 1, the United Provinces, led by Prince Willem V, declared war on the French Republic, joining the “War of the First Coalition”. There was, originally, some success when an Austrian-Dutch army led by the Prince of Coburg defeated the French under General Charles Dummouriez at the Battle of Neerwinden on March 18 in Belgium, however the Prince of Orange and his Dutch troops were defeated at Menin on September 3 and another Austro-Dutch army was defeated by the French at the Battle of Wattignies in October. The Austrians on their own, as well as the British and their German comrades did no better in the face of the mass conscript armies of France.
|Willem VI, later Willem I
However, not everyone felt “liberated” by this turn of events. The behavior of the French republicans won them few friends outside the already ideologically committed and the French also annexed Flanders, Maastricht, Venlo and part of Walcheren with Flushing to France. The British, however, still had a good intelligence service operating in the area and took notice of the growing Dutch discontent with their so-called liberators and in 1799, as part of the War of the Second Coalition, launched a joint invasion of the Batavian Republic along with an Imperial Russian Army force. The British were led by the “Grand Old” Duke of York and the Russians by General Johann H. von Fersen. They were met by a Franco-Batavian (Dutch) force of about equal size but, after initial success, in battles lasting from August to November, the Anglo-Russian army was ultimately forced to retreat, leaving the Netherlands once again to the First French Republic and their local collaborators. The House of Orange had not been mere spectators to these events as the Hereditary Prince of Orange, later Willem VI, participated in the campaign alongside the British and Russians. In fact, he was instrumental in the seizure of a naval squadron known as the “Vlieter Incident” with the ships ultimately being sold to the Royal Navy.
|Gen. Janssens at the Battle of Cape Town
Meanwhile, in 1803, Jan Rudiger Schimmelpenninck was elected President of the Batavian Republic but things began to change thanks to the grander aspirations of one Napoleon Bonaparte. After succeeding in making himself “Emperor of the French”, the client republics that France had set in neighboring countries suddenly received an upgrade to become client monarchies. In 1806 the Batavian Republic, at the behest of its French masters, became the Kingdom of Holland and the Emperor Napoleon awarded the new Dutch kingdom to his brother Louis (originally Luigi) who became King Ludwig I of Holland (or to be more precise, Lodewijk I). This led to a rather unusual situation as the new King Ludwig proved to be quite popular with his new Dutch subjects. Unlike, for instance, Napoleon’s older brother who became King of Spain, many Dutch people embraced their new monarch or, at least, did not dislike or oppose him. To his credit, Ludwig I took his new position seriously and tried to be a good king. That, however, ultimately led to trouble with his brother. King Ludwig I was supposed to be little more than a puppet but he was a puppet who tried to pull his own strings and when Dutch and French interests conflicted, Napoleon expected French interests to prevail. However, his brother actually stood up for Dutch interests which caused Napoleon no small amount of frustration (and at a time when he had much to be frustrated about).
|King Ludwig I of Holland
Because of this situation, there were prominent Dutch military men on both sides of the conflict. General Jan Willem Janssens had fought against the British at the Cape Colony and Java, was made Secretary-General for War for the Kingdom of Holland by Louis Bonaparte and then, after annexation, fought for Napoleon under Ney in the War of the Sixth Coalition. He would later serve as War Minister for the Kingdom of the United Netherlands in the last campaign against Napoleon. General David Hendrik Chasse, regarded by many as the best Dutch soldier of the period, was from the Patriot party and commanded the Dutch brigade that fought for Napoleon in Spain for which exploits he was elevated to baron. He carried on in French service after the annexation but remained bitter about it though he won decorations and promotions for outstanding service, even being credited with saving the French army at the Battle of Maya. For his offensive spirit and fierce attacks, Napoleon nicknamed him, “General Bayonet”. He too though would later fight against Napoleon as commander of the Third Netherlands Division during the Waterloo campaign. Later still, he would defend Antwerp during the Belgian Revolution.
Prince Willem V of Orange was long since gone by then, having died in exile in Germany in 1806 (in fact, his body was only reburied in The Netherlands in the 1950’s). He was succeeded by his son Prince Willem VI of Orange, however, in 1813 he had, with the downturn of fortune for Napoleon, returned to the Netherlands and received quite a warm welcome, almost everyone by that time having turned against the French. In 1815, with the support of the allies, he proclaimed himself King Willem I of the United Netherlands, also becoming, in due course, Grand Duke of Luxembourg. His son and heir was the Prince of Orange who would fight on more than one battlefield as chief deputy to the Duke of Wellington with his old military tutor Rebecque as his ‘right hand man’. Unfortunately, the military reputation of the Dutch, particularly as it concerns the Waterloo campaign, has suffered considerably and quite unjustly at the hands of their British allies, both in accounts from participants, post-war historians and even television filmmakers.
|The Prince of Orange at Quatre Bras
|King Willem I of the Netherlands