But this very time that was marked by the decline and fall of the Republic from the high position which it occupied during the greater part of the 17th century, was the golden age of the burgher-oligarchies. A haughty "patrician" class, consisting in each place of a very limited number of families, closely inter-related, had little by little possessed themselves, as a matter of hereditary right, of all the offices and dignities in the town, in the province and in the state. Within their own town they reigned supreme, filling up vacancies in the vroedschap by co-option, exercising all authority, occupying or distributing among their relatives all posts of profit, and acquiring great wealth. Their fellow-citizens were excluded from all share in affairs, and were looked down upon as belonging to an inferior caste. The old simple habits of their forefathers were abandoned. French fashions and manners were the vogue amongst them, and English clothes, furniture and food. In the country - platteland - people had no voice whatever in public affairs; they were not even represented, as the ordinary townspeople were by their regents. Thus the United Netherlands had not only ceased to be a unified state in any real sense of the word, but had ceased likewise to be a free state. It consisted of a large number of semi-independent oligarchies of the narrowest description; and the great mass of its population was deprived of every vestige of civic rights.

That such a State should have survived at all is to be explained by the fact that the real control over the foreign policy of the Republic and over its general government continued to be exercised by the band of experienced statesmen who had served under William III and inherited his traditions. Heinsius, the wise and prudent council-pensionary, continued in office until his death cm August 3, 1720, when he was succeeded by Isaac van Hoornbeck, pensionary of Rotterdam. Hoornbeck was not a man of great parts, but he was sound and safe and he had at his side Simon van Slingelandt, secretary of the Council of State since 1690, and others whose experience in public office dated from the preceding century. In their hands the external policy of the Republic, conducted with no lack of skill, was of necessity non-interventionist. In internal matters they could effect little. The finances after the war were in an almost hopeless condition, and again and again the State was threatened with bankruptcy. To make things worse an epidemic of wild speculation spread far and wide during the period 1716-1720 in the bubble companies, the Mississippi Company and the South Sea Company, associated with the name of Edward Law, which proved so ruinous to many in England and France, as well as in Holland. In 1716 such was the miserable condition of the country that the Estates of Overyssel, under the leadership of Count van Rechteren, proposed the summoning of a Great Assembly on the model of that of 1651 to consider the whole question of government and finance. The proposal was ultimately accepted, and the Assembly met at the Hague on November 28. After nine months of ineffectual debate and wrangling it finally came to an end on September 14, 1717, without effecting anything, leaving all who had the best interests of the State at heart in despair.

In the years immediately succeeding the Peace of Utrecht difficulties arose with Charles XII of Sweden; whose privateers had been seizing Dutch and English merchantmen in the Baltic. Under De Witt or William III the fleet of the Republic would speedily have brought the Swedish king to reason. But now other counsels prevailed. Dutch squadrons sailed into the Baltic with instructions to convoy the merchant vessels, but to avoid hostilities. With some difficulty this purpose was achieved; and the death of Charles at the siege of Frederikshald brought all danger of war to an end. And yet in the very interests of trade it would have been good policy for the States to act strongly in this matter of Swedish piracy in the Baltic. Russia was the rising power in those regions. The Dutch had really nothing to fear from Sweden, whose great days came to an end with the crushing defeat of Charles XII at Pultova in 1709. Trade relations had been opened between Holland and Muscovy so early as the end of the 16th century; and, despite English rivalry, the opening out of Russia and of Russian trade had been almost entirely in Dutch hands during the 17th century. The relations between the two countries became much closer and more important after the accession of the enterprising and reforming Tsar, Peter the Great. It is well known how Peter in 1696 visited Holland to learn the art of ship-building and himself toiled as a workman at Zaandam. As a result of this visit he carried back with him to Russia an admiration for all things Dutch. He not only favoured Dutch commerce, but he employed numbers of Hollanders in the building and training of his fleet and in the construction of waterways and roads. In 1716-17 Peter again spent a considerable time in Holland. Nevertheless Dutch policy was again timid and cautious; and no actual alliance was made with Russia, from dread of entanglements, although the opportunity seemed so favourable.