CHAPTER XVIII. THE STADHOLDERATE OF WILLIAM III, 1672-1688
The war on land dragged on without any decisive results during 1675. The stadholder was badly supported by his allies and reduced to the defensive; but, though tentative efforts were made by the English government to set on foot negotiations for peace, and a growing party in Holland were beginning to clamour for the cessation of a war which was crippling their trade and draining the resources of the country, the prince was resolutely opposed to the English offer of mediation, which he regarded as insincere and premature. He was well aware that there was in England a very strong and widespread opposition to the succession of James Duke of York, who made no secret of his devoted attachment to the Roman Catholic faith. So strong was the feeling that he had been compelled to resign his post of Lord-High-Admiral. The dislike and distrust he aroused had been accentuated by his second marriage to Mary of Modena, a zealous Catholic. William was the son of the eldest daughter of Charles I, and to him the eyes of a large party in England were turning. The prince was keenly alive to the political advantages of his position. He kept himself well informed of the intrigues of the court and of the state of public opinion by secret agents, and entered into clandestine correspondence with prominent statesmen. Charles II himself, though he had not the smallest sympathy with his nephew's political views, was as kindly disposed to him as his selfish and unprincipled nature would allow, and he even went so far as to encourage in 1674 an alliance between him and his cousin Mary, the elder daughter of the Duke of York. But William had at that time no inclination for marriage. He was preoccupied with other things, and the age of Mary - she was only twelve - rendered it easy for him to postpone his final decision.
Events were to force his hand. In 1676 the French king, fearing the power of the coalition that was growing in strength, endeavoured to detach the republic by offering to make a separate peace on generous terms. Despite the opposition of the stadholder, Dutch and French representatives met at Nijmwegen; but William by his obdurate attitude rendered any settlement of the points in dispute impossible. In 1677, however, the capture of Valenciennes by the French and their decisive defeat of the allied army under William's command at Mont-Cassel (April 11) made it more difficult for him to resist the growing impatience of the burgher-class in Holland and especially of the merchants of Amsterdam at his opposition to peace. He was accused of wishing to continue the war from motives of personal ambition and the desire of military glory. In February of this year, however, Charles II after a period of personal rule was through lack of resources compelled to summon parliament. It no sooner met than it showed its strong sympathy with the Netherlands; and the king speedily saw that he could no longer pursue a policy opposed to the wishes of his people. When, therefore, William sent over his most trusted friend and counsellor, Bentinck, to London on a secret mission in the summer, he met with a most favourable reception; and the prince himself received an invitation to visit his uncle with the special object of renewing the proposal for his marriage with the Princess Mary. William accordingly arrived in London on October 19; and, the assent of the king and the Duke of York being obtained, the wedding was celebrated with almost indecent haste. It was a purely political union; and when, early in December, the Prince and Princess of Orange set sail for Holland, the young girl wept bitterly at having to leave her home for a strange land at the side of a cold, unsympathetic husband. The weeks he spent in England had been utilised by the prince to good purpose. He persuaded Charles to promise his support by land and sea to the Netherlands in case the terms of peace offered by the allies were rejected by the French. A treaty between the States and Great Britain giving effect to this promise was actually signed on January 29, 1678. The results, however, did not answer William's expectations. The English Parliament and the States alike had no trust in King Charles, nor was the English match at first popular in Holland. A strong opposition arose against the prince's war policy. The commercial classes had been hard hit by the French invasion, and they were now suffering heavy losses at sea through the Dunkirk privateers led by the daring Jean Bart. The peace party included such tried and trusted statesmen as Van Beverningh, Van Beuningen and the Council-Pensionary Fagel, all of them loyal counsellors of the stadholder. So resolute was the attitude of Amsterdam that the leaders of both municipal parties, Valckenier and Hooft, were agreed in demanding that the French offers of a separate peace should be accepted. On the same side was found Henry Casimir, Stadholder of Friesland, who was jealous of his cousin's autocratic exercise of authority.