Second Stadtholderless Period - The Van Hoornbeek and Van Slingelandt Terms in Office

The Van Hoornbeek and Van Slingelandt Terms in Office

Apparently, Van Slingelandt's efforts at reform not only failed, but he had made so many enemies trying to implement them, that his career was interrupted. When Heinsius died in August, 1720 Van Slingelandt was pointedly passed over for the office of Grand Pensionary and it was given to Isaac van Hoornbeek. Van Hoornbeek had been pensionary of the city of Rotterdam and as such he represented that city in the States-General. During Heinsius' term in office he often assisted the Grand Pensionary in a diplomatic capacity and in managing the political troubles between the provinces. He was, however, more a civil servant, than a politician by temperament. This militated against his taking a role as a forceful political leader, as other Grand Pensionaries, like Johan de Witt, and to a lesser extent, Gaspar Fagel and Heinsius had been.

This is probably just the way his backers liked it. Neutralist sentiment was still strong in the years following the Barrier Treaty with Austria of 1715. The Republic felt safe from French incursions behind the string of fortresses in the Austrian Netherlands it was now allowed to garrison. Besides, under the Regency of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans after the death of Louis XIV, France hardly formed a menace. Though the States-General viewed the acquisitive policies of Frederick William I of Prussia on the eastern frontier of the Republic with some trepidation this as yet did not form a reason to seek safety in defensive alliances. Nevertheless, other European powers did not necessarily accept such an aloof posture (used as they were to the hyperactivity in the first decade of the century), and the Republic was pressured to become part of the Quadruple Alliance and take part in its war against Spain after 1718. However, though the Republic formally acceded to the Alliance, obstruction of the city of Amsterdam, which feared for its trade interests in Spain and its colonies, prevented an active part of the Dutch military (though the Republic's diplomats hosted the peace negotiations that ended the war).

On the internal political front all had been quiet since the premature death of John William Friso in 1711. He had a posthumous son, William IV, Prince of Orange, who was born about six weeks after his death. That infant was no serious candidate for any official post in the Republic, though the Frisian States faithfully promised to appoint him to their stadtholdership, once he would come of age. In the meantime his mother Marie Louise of Hesse-Kassel (like her mother-in-law before her) acted as regent for him in Friesland, and pursued the litigation over the inheritance of William III with Frederick William of Prussia.

But Orangism as a political force remained dormant until in 1718 the States of Friesland formally designated him their future stadtholder, followed the next year by the States of Groningen. In 1722 the States of Drenthe followed suit, but what made the other provinces suspicious was that the same year Orangists in the States of Gelderland started agitating to make him prospective stadtholder there too. This was a new development, as stadtholders of the House of Nassau-Dietz previously had only served in the three northern provinces mentioned just now. Holland, Zeeland and Overijssel therefore tried to intervene, but the Gelderland Orangists prevailed, though the States of Gelderland at the same time drew up an Instructie (commission) that almost reduced his powers to nothing, certainly compared to the authority William III had possessed under the Government Regulations of 1675. Nevertheless, this decision of Gelderland caused a backlash in the other stadtholderless provinces that reaffirmed their firm rejection of a new stadtholderate in 1723.

When Van Hoornbeek died in office in 1727 Van Slingelandt finally got his chance as Grand Pensionary, though his suspected Orangist leanings caused his principals to demand a verbal promise that he would maintain the stadtholderless regime. He also had to promise that he would not try again to bring about constitutional reforms.

William IV came of age in 1729 and was duly appointed stadtholder in Friesland, Groningen, Drenthe and Gelderland. Holland barred him immediately from the Raad van State (and also of the captaincy-general of the Union) on the pretext that his appointment would give the northern provinces an undue advantage. In 1732 he concluded the Treaty of Partition over the contested inheritance of the Prince of Orange with his rival Frederick William. By the terms of the treaty, William and Frederick William agreed to recognize each other as Princes of Orange. William also got the right to refer to his House as Orange-Nassau. As a result of the treaty, William's political position improved appreciably. It now looked as if the mighty Prussian king would start supporting him in the politics of the Republic.

One consequence of the settlement was that the Prussian king removed his objections to the assumption by William IV of the dignity of First Noble in the States of Zeeland, on the basis of his ownership of the Marquisates of Veere and Vlissingen. To block such a move the States of Zeeland (who did not want him in their midst) first offered to buy the two marquisates, and when he refused, compulsorily bought them, depositing the purchase price in an escrow account.

On a different front the young stadtholder improved his position through a marriage alliance with the British royal house of Hanover. George II of England was not very secure in his hold on the British throne and hoped to strengthen it by offering his daughter Anne, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange in marriage to what he mistook for an influential politician of the Republic, with which, after all old ties existed, reaching back to the Glorious Revolution. At first Van Slingelandt reacted negatively to the proposal with such vehemence that the project was held in abeyance for a few years, but eventually he ran out of excuses and William and Anne were married at St. James's Palace in London in March, 1734. The States-General were barely polite, merely congratulating the king on selecting a son-in-law from "a free republic such as ours." The poor princess, used to a proper royal court, was buried for the next thirteen years in the provincial mediocrity of the stadtholder's court in Leeuwarden.

Nevertheless, the royal marriage was an indication that the Republic was at least still perceived in European capitals as a power that was worth wooing for the other powers. Despite its neutralist preferences the Republic had been dragged into the Alliance of Hanover of 1725. Though this alliance was formally intended to counter the alliance between Austria and Spain, the Republic hoped it would be a vehicle to manage the king of Prussia, who was trying to get his hands on the Duchy of Jülich that abutted Dutch territory, and threatened to engulf Dutch Generality Lands in Prussian territory.

These are just examples of the intricate minuets European diplomats danced in this first third of the 18th century and in which Van Slingelandt tried his best to be the dance master. The Republic almost got involved in the War of the Polish Succession, to such an extent that it was forced to increase its army just at the time it had hoped to be able to reduce it appreciably. Van Slingelandt played an important part as an intermediary in bringing about peace in that conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg powers in 1735.

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