The withdrawal of the French, however, did not mean an end to the series of administrative changes, although the impulse for change no longer came from Paris. With the liberation of the Netherlands by Prussian troops, three former officials formed an interim government. Their proclamation is famous, and starts with the common cry ‘Oranje boven!’ of the followers of the Prince of Orange:
Hurrah for the House of Orange! Holland is free. Our allies are marching on Utrecht. The English have been invited. The French are trying to escape. The sea is again open. Commerce will revive. Factional strive will cease, all suffering will be forgiven and forgotten. The notables will sit in government. The government proclaims the Prince sovereign. We will join our allies and force the enemy to make peace. The populace will have a holiday at public expense, without looting and abuse. Everyone will thank the Lord. The old times will come back. Hurrah for the House of Orange!!
Because an absence of government awaits us, with the possible consequences of pillaging and bloodshed, if only for a few days, we have deemed it necessary to assemble as soon as possible the most important members and ministers of the former government, of 1794 and 1795, and have written to invite them. This meeting will take place in the mansion of Mr Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp, on the Kneuterdijk, on Thursday 18 November, at twelve o’clock.
This is probably the only coup d’état in world history which took the form of a lunch appointment. But a coup d’état it was. It is true that Van Hogendorp was a leading state theoretician, but he was not qualified to offer the sovereign power to the Prince of Orange. However, just as stadtholder William III had had himself invited to England in 1688 by a small minority of the English Parliament, Prince William VI did not need much encouragement to come back to Netherland: on 30 November 1813 he landed in Scheveningen, the port of The Hague.
‘The old times will come back’, the notables proclaimed. Unfortunately it was not clear which old times they were referring to. The former regents wished to return to the pre-1795 state institutions, and although the regents had become impoverished by the economic crisis, they were still very influential. The former Patriots wanted a return of the constitution. Many had an aversion to the House of Orange, but others found the experience of the monarchy under Louis Napoleon in 1806-1810 so positive that they were willing to give monarchy a second chance. And if Netherland was to have a king, then the Prince of Orange was the most obvious candidate: by sailing to Scheveningen he had shown himself in any case to be much more energetic than his father or grandfather.
All the ingredients were there for a civil war. After 1813, the impoverished country was flooded with cheap English products that ruined the old crafts. And, at the same time, there were political contradictions, there were weapons, and there were foreign parties who were pursuing their own interests in the Netherlands. England and Prussia wanted Netherland and Belgium to unite and form a single kingdom, becoming a northern buffer against France. In the end it turned out that there was still enough to bind the Netherlanders, enabling them to come to a compromise that had something in it for all parties.
Netherland and Belgium became one kingdom and Prince William VI was placed on the throne as King William I. For his part, he declared that he would only agree to accept the role of sovereign if there was to be a constitution. This was ready in 1814 and revised only a year later – the eighth form of government in twenty years. The centralization which had begun in the Batavian period was adopted, together with numerous other state institutions, making the former Patriots happy. And, to the satisfaction of the former regents, the old States-General body was revived. The regional Meetings of the Estates were reinstated, no longer sovereign, to be sure, but with more powers than in the time of the French.
What appeared to be irreconcilable was now reconciled in the state institutions: Netherland became a ‘constitutional parliamentary monarchy’, the vague formula which Patriots, regents and Orangists could all accept. Those who lost out most were the democrats, as instating the monarchy went hand in hand with drastic restrictions on voting rights: only very rich people were represented in parliament.
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