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The rampjaar ("disaster year") was the year 1672 in Dutch history. In that year, following the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War and the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Republic of the Seven United Provinces was attacked by England, France, and the prince-electors Bernhard von Galen, bishop of Münster and Maximilian Henry of Bavaria, the bishop of Cologne. The invading armies very quickly defeated the Dutch States Army and conquered a large part of the Republic.
As a result the cities of the remaining coastal provinces of Holland, Zealand and Frisia panicked; the city governments were taken over by Orangists, who were opposed to the republican regime of the Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt. This signified the end of the First Stadtholderless Period in Dutch history.
A famous Dutch saying describes the condition of the Dutch population at that moment as redeloos (irrational), its government radeloos (desperate) and the country itself reddeloos (beyond rescue).
Situation in the Republic
During the Eighty Years' War there had been tension in the provinces between adherers of a government ruled by the burgher oligarchy, called regents, and those who favoured a government led by the Prince of Orange. These tensions had escalated in 1650 when William II, Prince of Orange had tried to conquer Amsterdam, the main bastion of the Regents of the De Graeff- and Bicker- clan. After negotiations he succeeded in removing a number of his adversaries from their offices.
When William died from smallpox later that year, the republican party came back in power. In the Act of Seclusion, it was declared that they would not appoint his son, William III of Orange, or anybody else to the office of Stadholder stating that a supreme head of government would be harmful to the 'True Freedom'. Johan de Witt was appointed Grand Pensionary of Holland and led the States of Holland, the most important province within the Union.
The takeover by the regents did not go without protest from the Orangists, but with the economy booming and peace on the Union's borders they had little opportunity to remove the government from office. To appease the Orangists and because of their own business interests, the Dutch Regents tried to keep the peace within Europe.
When the Republic had been fighting for its independence from Spain, it had allied with France and England. In 1648, as part of the Peace of Westphalia, the Republic had made peace with Austria and Spain. France had only made peace with Austria and continued fighting Spain until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. A condition of that peace was that Louis XIV would marry Maria Theresa, daughter of Philip IV of Spain. Maria Theresa would renounce her share of the inheritance in exchange for a large dowry. The dowry was never paid by the Spanish.
During the 1650s and 1660s the existing tensions between Dutch trade interests and English trade interests grew. The First Anglo-Dutch War was fought between the republics, resulting in a victory for the English. In a secret annex to the Treaty of Westminster, the Act of Seclusion, Holland declared that it abolished the office of Stadholder and would never allow the States-General of the Netherlands to appoint a member of the House of Orange to the office of Captain-General. Oliver Cromwell, who was Lord Protector of England at that time, insisted on this condition because William II had assisted Charles I during the English Civil War. While supporters of the Dutch Regent favoured diminishing the influence of the House of Orange, by agreeing to the English conditions they inter-mingled internal and foreign affairs and infuriated the pro-Orange faction.
When during the English Restoration Charles II was crowned king of England in 1660, the Act of Seclusion was declared void, but to the dismay of Holland, Charles affirmed those clauses of the peace which negatively impacted Dutch trade interests.
An English attempt to take over Dutch trade and colonies led to the Second Anglo-Dutch War. After the previous war Johan de Witt had supervised the expansion and improvement of the Dutch navy at the cost of neglecting the Dutch army. With the new fleet and the help of France, with whom they had allied again, the Dutch ultimately defeated the English at sea through the Raid on the Medway and put pressure on the English ally Münster. First Münster and then England were forced to make peace. While France had helped to put pressure on England and Münster they had not committed a major part of their army or fleet. After the death of Philip IV, Louis XIV claimed part of the inheritance for his wife. According to local law in parts of the Spanish Netherlands daughters of an earlier marriage took precedence before the sons of a later marriage. The way Louis XIV explained this, Maria Theresa, daughter of the first marriage of Philip IV, should inherit the Spanish Netherlands because Philip's son, Charles II was from Philip's second marriage. This went against the interest of the Dutch Republic who preferred having a weak state as their neighbour.
Because of this Johan de Witt allied with the defeated English, and Sweden who had an army nearby in Germany, in the Triple Alliance. In secret clauses of the treaty they agreed to use force if Louis XIV would not come to terms with Spain.
Renversement des Alliances
France made peace with Spain but because the secret clauses of the Triple Alliance were soon made public, Louis XIV felt insulted by the "perfid" Dutch, who according to him had broken their faith. Immediately after the peace agreement, France made steps to isolate the Republic. Sweden and Münster were quickly bribed but the English public distrusted Louis XIV. The king on the other hand saw war with the Dutch as being in his best interests. A defeat of the Republic probably would lead to the fall of the republican government so that Charles's nephew, William III of Orange, could take power. And a war would be a good opportunity to crush the Dutch competition in trade and colonies. Additionally, Louis promised Charles a notable sum of money, so he could rule without having to consult the English parliament.
The Dutch were aware that negotiations between England and France were going on but specific details were not known. Johan de Witt counted on the unpopularity to the English public of a war with a fellow Protestant nation and tried to improve relations with the French. The discussion on the issue of the Spanish Netherlands, however, yielded no consensus between the two countries. France saw the Rhine as its natural border and between France and the Rhine lay the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Generality Lands. This made the Dutch feel threatened by the French ambitions. According to the French ambassador the Dutch acted from the motto: Gallicus amicus, non vicinus, or "The Frenchman is a good friend, but a bad neighbour". The Dutch brought their fleet again up to strength but made insufficient preparations with their army. Reasons for this were the shortage of money and the Regents' distrust of the army, which had often been an instrument of the Orange party. With the likelihood of a war growing, pressure increased on the Dutch government to appoint William III, who had not yet come of age, to the office of Stadtholder and Captain-General. At last in February 1672 Johan de Witt agreed to appoint William to Captain-General for the duration of one war campaign.
On 12 March 1672 Robert Holmes attacked a Dutch trade convoy, the Smyrna fleet. France, the Electorate of Cologne and the Bishopric of Münster declared war in April. By moving through the possessions of Münster and Cologne and a few other French allies, the army of Louis XIV, led by Louis II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé and Turenne was able to pass through the Spanish Netherlands and bypass the Dutch defense in the south and invade the Dutch from the east in June.
At the IJssel it came to a short battle that was easily won by the French. Now the whole of the Republic lay open for the French and also Groenlo was taken. In the cities of Holland, Zealand and Utrecht panic took root. Lower and middle-class people stood up against the government, demanded appointment of the Prince and punishment of those responsible for the war and the state of the army. The government of the regents fell, Johan de Witt and others resigned and partisans of William III took over. One of the first acts of William III was to strike out the word 'honourably' in the resignation of Johan de Witt.
Lynching of the De Witt brothers
The angry mob remained unsatisfied and their frustrations with the hopeless military situation led them to search for scapegoats. In August Cornelis de Witt, the less gifted and less popular brother of Johan de Witt, was put in prison in The Hague on suspicion of treason and plotting to assassinate William. When Johan de Witt went there to visit his brother, the small cavalry security force present was sent away on the pretence of having to stop a group of marauding peasants, which were never found. Around the prison a crowd had gathered, demanding the punishment of the brothers. The prison was stormed—according to some contemporary accounts, after Orangist Cornelis Tromp, an enemy of Johan de Witt, had given the sign—by civil militia; the brothers were taken out, murdered by the militia members and their bodies mutilated and partly eaten by the crowd. The names of a few of the murderers became known but they were protected, and in some cases even rewarded by Prince William. Most modern historians suspect that the murder of the brothers were the result of a conspiracy involving, among others, William.
The French had advanced from the IJssel to Utrecht. There negotiations started. Louis XIV and Charles II of England had intended that William became Sovereign Prince as head of a Hollandic rump state principality, a joint protectorate (with the British occupying key Hollandic cities and the isle of Walcheren) and Louis halted his army to allow the Orangists to take over Holland and come to an arrangement with him. He offered the Dutch peace in exchange for either the southern fortresses, religious freedom for Catholics and six million guilders or his keeping his present conquests and sixteen million guilders. These demands, especially the financial part of them, led to a public outrage and the Dutch mood abruptly changed from defeatism to a dogged determination to resist the French.
While the negotiations took place, the French failed to prevent the Dutch from starting to inundate the Dutch Water Line and for Williams III's small army to withdraw behind it. Before they came to understand the nature and importance of this defence system their further advance was blocked by an impassable water and mud barrier. This small success for the Dutch was followed by others. The Dutch fleet under admiral Michiel de Ruyter had already defeated the Anglo-French fleet at the Battle of Solebay and on 28 August 1672 the German Bishop of Münster, Bernhard von Galen, withdrew from the siege of Groningen, is still celebrated annually in Groningen.
On the diplomatic front the Holy Roman Empire and Spain took the side of the Netherlands. In 1673 Bonn fell to a Dutch army. This made the French retreat from most of the Republic. England, Münster and Cologne made peace in 1674, the French fought on until 1678. (For the rest of the war, see Franco-Dutch War)
The experience of the Rampjaar had a considerable influence on the direction of Dutch foreign policy. William III saw it as his life work to defend the Republic and Europe against French hegemony. In all the wars of Louis XIV the Dutch would support his adversaries. In 1688, when faced with an English king who again seemed to side with the French, the Dutch mobilised their full resources in order to invade Britain and overthrow the Catholic Stuart Dynasty (the Glorious Revolution) - a decision which involved a major gamble whose magnitude is not fully appreciated since it paid off. It was considered worthwhile since after the Rampjaar the possibility of a Catholic, and French-dominated, Britain was regarded as a mortal threat to the Netherlands. In England public opinion was already turning against the French but the war of 1672 accelerated this. While Charles II and his successor James II of England still had French sympathies they had to take into account the distrust of the English public of France.
The Dutch economy suffered a severe crisis and never fully recovered - though the Dutch Golden Age is usually said to have continued until the end of the century. The art market was as severely affected as other trades - a famous comment by Jan Vermeer's widow described how he was unable to sell work thereafter. The leading marine artists, Willem van de Velde the Elder and his son Willem II, both emigrated to London, never to return.
- Bowen, Marjorie. The William and Mary Trilogy, Vol. 1: I Will Maintain. Alberta: Inheritance Publications, 1993. pp. 353–359, 382.
- Kenneth Harold Dobson Haley. An English diplomat in the Low Countries : Sir William Temple and John de Witt, 1665-1672 (Oxford 1986)
- Herbert H. Rowen. John de Witt, Statesman of the "True Freedom" (Cambridge, 1986)
- Israel, J. I. (1998). The Dutch Republic Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806, 1st paperback (1st - 1995), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-820734-4.