CHAPTER XIII. THE STADHOLDERATE OF WILLIAM II.
The Prince of Orange had now secured the object at which he had aimed. His authority henceforth rested on a firm basis. His opponents had been overthrown and humiliated. The Estates of six provinces thanked him for the success of his efforts, and he on his part met the general wish for economy by agreeing to a reduction of the foreign troops in the pay of the States on the distinct understanding that only the States-General had the right to disband any portion of the forces, not the provincial paymasters. In the flush of triumph William at the end of August left the Hague for his country seat at Dieren, nominally for hunting and for rest, in reality to carry on secret negotiations with France for the furtherance of his warlike designs. The complete defeat of Charles II at the battle of Worcester, September 3, must have been a severe blow to his hopes for the restoration of the Stuarts, but it did not deter him from pursuing his end. With d'Estrades, now Governor of Dunkirk, the prince secretly corresponded, and through him matters were fully discussed with the French Government. In a letter written from the Hague on October 2, William expressed a strong wish that d'Estrades should come in person to visit him; and it was the intention of d'Estrades to accept this invitation as soon as he had received from Paris the copy of a draft-treaty, which was being prepared. This draft-treaty, which was probably drawn up by Mazarin, reached d'Estrades in the course of October, but circumstantial evidence proves that it was never seen by William. Its provisions were as follows. Both Powers were to declare war on Spain and attack Flanders and Antwerp. The Dutch were to besiege Antwerp, which city, if taken, was to become the personal appanage of the Prince, of Orange. When the Spanish power in the southern Netherlands had been overthrown, then France and the United Provinces were to send a joint expedition to England to place Charles II on the throne. Whether the prince would have approved these proposals we know not; in all probability he would have declined to commit himself to a plan of such a far-reaching and daring character, for he was aware of the limitations of his power, and knew that even his great influence would have been insufficient to obtain the consent of the States-General to an immediate renewal of war. Speculation however is useless, for an inexorable fate raised other issues.
On October 8 the stadholder returned to Dieren, on the 27th he fell ill with an attack of small-pox. He was at once taken back to the Hague and for some days he progressed favourably, but the illness suddenly took a turn for the worse and he expired on November 6. The news of the prince's death fell like a shock upon the country. Men could scarcely believe their ears. William was only 24 years old; and, though his wife gave birth to a son a week later, he left no heir capable of succeeding to the high offices that he had held. The event was the more tragic, following, as it did, so swiftly upon the coup d'etat of the previous summer, and because of the youth and high promise of the deceased prince. William II was undoubtedly endowed with high and brilliant qualities of leadership, and he had proved his capacity for action with unusual decision and energy. Had his life not been cut short, the course of European politics might have been profoundly changed.
As was to be expected, the burgher-regents of Holland, when once the first shock was over, lost no time in taking advantage of the disappearance of the man who had so recently shown that he possessed the power of the sword and meant to be their master. The States-General at once met and requested the Provincial Estates to take steps to deal with the situation. The Estates of Holland proposed that an extraordinary assembly should be summoned. This was agreed to by the States-General; and "the Great Assembly" met on January 11, 1651. In the meantime the Holland regents had been acting. The Estates of that province were resolved to abolish the stadholderates and to press the States-General to suspend the offices of Captain-and Admiral-General of the Union. Utrecht, Gelderland, Overyssel and Zeeland were induced to follow their example. Groningen, however, elected William Frederick of Friesland to be stadholder in the place of his cousin.