CHAPTER XVIII. THE STADHOLDERATE OF WILLIAM III, 1672-1688
The position of the three provinces, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel, which had been overrun by the French at the opening of hostilities and held by them ever since, had to be re-settled. They had, during this period, paid no taxes, and had no representation in the States-General. Holland was in favour of reducing them to the status of Generality-lands until they had paid their arrears. The prince was opposed to any harshness of treatment, and his will prevailed. The three provinces were re-admitted into the Union, but with shorn privileges; and William was elected stadholder by each of them with largely increased powers. The nomination, or the choice out of a certain number of nominees, of the members of the Town-Corporations, of the Courts of Justice and of the delegates to the States-General, was granted to him. The Dutch Republic was full of anomalies. In Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel we have the curious spectacle in the days of William III of the stadholder, who was nominally a servant of the Sovereign Estates, himself appointing his masters. As a matter of fact, the voice of these provinces was his voice; and, as he likewise controlled the Estates in Zeeland, he could always count upon a majority vote in the States-General in support of his foreign policy. Nor was this all.
Holland itself, in gratitude for its deliverance, had become enthusiastically Orangist. It declared the stadholdership hereditary in the male-line, and its example was followed by Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel, while the States-General in their turn made the captain-and admiral-generalship of the Union hereditary offices. Nor was gratitude confined to the conferring of powers and dignities which gave the prince in all but name monarchical authority. At the proposal of Amsterdam, the city which so often had been and was yet to be the stubborn opponent of the Princes of Orange, William II's debt of 2,000,000 fl. was taken over by the province of Holland; Zeeland presented him with 30,000 fl.; and the East India Company with a grant of 1/33 of its dividends.
From the very first William had kept steadily in view a scheme of forming a great coalition to curb the ambitious designs of Louis XIV; and for effecting this object an alliance between England and the United Provinces was essential. The first step was to conclude peace. This was not a difficult task. The English Parliament, and still more the English people, had throughout been averse from fighting on the side of the French against the Dutch. Charles II, with the help of French money, had been carrying on the war in opposition to the wishes of his subjects, who saw their fleets but feebly supported by their French allies, their trade seriously injured, and but little chance of gaining any advantageous return for the heavy cost. Charles himself had a strong affection for his nephew, and began to turn a favourable ear to his proposals for negotiations, more especially as his heroic efforts to stem the tide of French invasion had met with so much success. In these circumstances everything was favourable to an understanding; and peace was concluded at Westminster on February 19,1674. The terms differed little from those of Breda, except that the Republic undertook to pay a war indemnity of 2,000,000 fl. within three years. The striking of the flag was conceded. Surinam remained in Dutch hands. New York, which had been retaken by a squadron under Cornelis Evertsen, August, 1673, was given back to the English crown. Negotiations were likewise opened with Muenster and Cologne; and peace was concluded with Muenster (April 22) and with Cologne (May 11) on the basis of the evacuation of all conquered territory. France was isolated and opposed now by a strong coalition, the Republic having secured the help of Austria, Spain, Brandenburg and Denmark. The campaign of the summer of 1674 thus opened under favouring circumstances, but nothing of importance occurred until August 11, when William at the head of an allied force of some 70,000 men encountered Conde at Seneff in Hainault. The battle was fought out with great obstinacy and there were heavy losses on both sides. The French, however, though inferior in numbers had the advantage in being a more compact force than that of the allies; and William, poorly supported by the Imperialist contingents, had to retire from the field. He was never a great strategist, but he now conducted a retreat which extracted admiration from his opponents. His talents for command always showed themselves most conspicuously in adverse circumstances. His coolness and courage in moments of peril and difficulty never deserted him, and, though a strict disciplinarian, he always retained the confidence and affection of his soldiers. On October 27 Grave was captured, leaving only one of the Dutch fortresses, Maestricht, in the hands of the French.