Louis Bonaparte was but 28 years old, and of a kindly, gentle character very unlike his self-willed, domineering brother. He was weakly, and his ill-health made him at times restless and moody. He had given great satisfaction by his declaration that "as soon as he set foot on the soil of his kingdom he became a Hollander," and he was well received. The constitution of the new kingdom differed little from that it superseded. The Secretaries of State became Ministers, and the number of members of the Legislative Body was raised to thirty-nine. The king had power to conclude treaties with foreign States without consulting the Legislative Body. The partition of the country was somewhat changed, Holland being divided into two departments, Amstelland and Maasland. Drente became a separate department; and in 1807 East Friesland with Jever was made into an eleventh department, as compensation for Flushing, which was annexed to France.

Louis came to the Hague with the best intentions of doing his utmost to promote the welfare of his kingdom, but from the first he was thwarted by the deplorable condition of the national finances. Out of a total income of fifty million florins the interest on the national debt absorbed thirty-five millions. The balance was not nearly sufficient to defray the costs of administration, much less to meet the heavy demands of Napoleon for contributions to war expenditure. All the efforts of the finance minister Gogel to reduce the charges and increase the income were of small avail. The king was naturally lavish, and he spent considerable sums in the maintenance of a brilliant court, and in adding to the number of royal residences. Dissatisfied with the Hague, he moved first to Utrecht, then to Amsterdam, where the Stadhuis was converted into a palace; and he bought the Pavilion at Haarlem as a summer abode. All this meant great expenditure. 'Louis was vain, and was only prevented from creating marshals of his army and orders of chivalry by Napoleon's stern refusal to permit it. He had to be reminded that by the Bonaparte family-law he was but a vassal king, owning allegiance to the emperor.

Despite these weaknesses Louis did much for the land of his adoption. The old Rhine at Leyden, which lost itself in the dunes, was connected by a canal with Katwijk on the sea, where a harbour was created. The dykes and waterways were repaired and improved, and high-roads constructed from the Hague to Leyden, and from Utrecht to Het Loo. Dutch literature found in Louis a generous patron. He took pains to learn the language from the instruction of Bilderdijk, the foremost writer of his day. The foundation in 1808 of the "Royal Netherland Institute for Science, Letters and the Fine Arts" was a signal mark of his desire to raise the standard of culture in Holland on a national basis. The introduction of the Code Napoleon, with some necessary modifications, replaced a confused medley of local laws and customs, varying from province to province, by a general unified legal system. As a statesman and administrator Louis had no marked ability, but the ministers to whom he entrusted the conduct of affairs, Verhuell, minister of marine, Roell, of foreign affairs, Kragenhoff, of war, Van Maanen, of justice, and more especially the experienced Gogel, in control of the embarrassed finances, were capable men.

The state of the finances indeed was the despair of the Dutch government. The imperious demands of Napoleon for the maintenance of an army of 40,000 men, to be employed by him on foreign campaigns, and also of a considerable navy, made all attempts at economy and re-organisation of the finances almost hopeless. By the war with England the Dutch had lost their colonies and most of their great sea-borne trade; and the situation was rendered more difficult by the Decree of Berlin in 1806 and the establishment of the "Continental System" by the emperor, as a reply to the British blockade. All trade and even correspondence with England were forbidden. He hoped thus to bring England to her knees; but, though the decree did not achieve this object, it did succeed in bringing utter ruin upon the Dutch commercial classes. In vain Louis protested; he was not heard and only met with angry rebukes from his brother for not taking more vigorous steps to stop smuggling, which the character of the Dutch coast rendered a comparatively easy and, at the same time, lucrative pursuit.