CHAPTER XX. THE WAR OF THE SPANISH SUCCESSION AND THE TREATIES OF UTRECHT, 1702-1715

William III left no successor to take his place. The younger branch of the Nassau family, who had been, from the time of John of Nassau, stadholders of Friesland and, except for one short interval, of Groningen, and who by the marriage of William Frederick with Albertina Agnes, younger daughter of Frederick Henry, could claim descent in the female line from William the Silent, had rendered for several generations distinguished services to the Republic, but in 1702 had as its only representative a boy of 14 years of age, by name John William Friso. As already narrated, the relations between his father, Henry Casimir, and William III had for a time been far from friendly; but a reconciliation took place before Henry Casimir's untimely death, and the king became god-father to John William Friso, and by his will left him his heir. The boy had succeeded by hereditary right to the posts of stadholder and captain-general of Friesland and Groningen under the guardianship of his mother, but such claims as he had to succeed William III as stadholder in the other provinces were, on account of his youth, completely ignored. As in 1650, Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overyssel reverted once more to a stadholderless form of government.

Fortunately this implied no change of external policy. The men who had for years been fellow-workers with King William and were in complete sympathy with his aims continued to hold the most important posts in the government of the Republic, and to control its policy. That policy consisted in the maintenance of a close alliance with England for the purpose of curbing the ambitious designs of Louis XIV. Foremost among these statesmen were Antony Heinsius, the council-pensionary of Holland, Simon van Slingelandt, secretary of the Council of State since 1690, and Jan Hop, the treasurer-general of the Union. In England the recognition by Louis of the Prince of Wales as King James III had thoroughly aroused the popular feeling against France; and Anne the new queen determined to carry out her predecessor's plans. The two maritime powers, closely bound together by common interests, and the ties which had arisen between them during the thirteen years of the reign of the king-stadholder, were to form the nucleus of a coalition with Austria and a number of the German states, including Prussia and Hanover (to which Savoy somewhat later adhered), pledged to support the claims of the Archduke Charles to the Spanish throne. For the Dutch it was an all-important question, for with Philip V reigning at Madrid the hegemony of France in Europe seemed to be assured. Already French troops were in possession of the chief fortresses of the so-called Spanish Netherlands. Face to face with such a menace it was not difficult for Heinsius to obtain not only the assent of the States-General, but of the Estates of Holland, practically without a dissenting voice, to declare war upon France and Spain (May 8, 1702); and this was quickly followed by similar declarations by England and Austria.