Ibegan my story with an invasion, a violent interruption of the historical narrative of a nation, theatrical, unexpected and disruptive. Yet it was an invasion whose political and cultural consequences were accommodated and smoothed over with extraordinary rapidity, melding the life-worlds of invader and invaded into an unbeatable blend of tough political realism and commercial acumen – with a dose of tolerance thrown in – which within little more than a generation would turn the conquered nation into a great power.
Because by 1688 England and Holland were already so closely intertwined, culturally, intellectually, dynastically and politically, that the invasion was more like a merger. It had after all been attempted by treaty before, in the 1650s, when the United Provinces took the initiative, and tried to persuade Cromwell that the shared interests of the two nations made a political union obvious. Although that attempt failed – England had all too recently freed itself from the dominion of the Stuarts to be prepared to give up its independence – the idea was revived more than once over the following decades. The two East India Companies (Dutch and English) made several attempts prior to 1688 to bring about a political union which might rationalise their seaborne activities and commercial operations, making them one company under one flag. It was one of the many ironies of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ that William III chose to keep his lucrative English and Dutch maritime enterprises separate and in competition.
So deep ran the connections between England and Holland in the runup to the invasion that the subsequent merger of dynasties and cultures was almost seamless. Constantijn Huygens junior’s delight, as he recorded Prince William’s enthusiastic welcome from the ‘ordinary folk’ of England, was the delight of recognition:
Alongside the roads the people had gathered, as on the previous day, women, men, and children alike, all shouting: ‘God bless you’ and waving to us a hundred good wishes. They gave the Prince and his entourage apples, and an old lady was waiting with a bottle of mead and wanted to pour his Highness a glass.
That, at least, is what I have argued here. I am also of the opinion that in excavating the subterranean ties that bound the English and the Dutch in the seventeenth century, I have barely scratched the surface of my subject. Once we discard history’s customary petty nationalism, and survey fields like art, music, science and medicine more broadly, we find ourselves returning again and again to close collaborations between individuals and groups separated (but only sometimes) by the Narrow Sea.
So I bring this story to a close with a couple of decidedly odd examples of Anglo–Dutch collaboration (as usual, involving that assiduous facilitator Sir Constantijn Huygens, father of the diarist who witnessed the 1688 invasion from start to finish from the Dutch side). They may stand here for all the other unexpected connections I am confident readers will begin to find all around, once they begin to look.
Between early November 1670 and mid-September 1671, Sir Constantijn Huygens, at the age of seventy-two, was in London with his twenty-year- old charge, Prince William of Orange, attempting to retrieve monies owed to William by his uncle Charles II.1 It was William’s first visit to his mother Mary Stuart’s country of birth. Strictly speaking he travelled as a commoner. He had not yet regained the position of Stadholder of the Low Countries, of which he had been stripped as an infant, following his father’s death in 1650, but now that he had declared himself ‘of age’, complex political manoeuvring by the Orange faction seemed likely to achieve that end.2 As far as Charles II was concerned, his young Dutch relative was a potential bit-part player in his complicated power-brokering negotiations with France and the Dutch Republic: ‘According to the Sommier Verhael [“Summary Relation”] of William’s journey, Charles II had repeatedly kissed his nephew when he arrived in England in early November 1670.’3 The King was particularly insistent that William be treated with all ceremony.
When the Prince of Orange was to dine with the lord mayor [of London] in [January] 1671, there was much consideration of the seating arrangements; the King was consulted and he gave his ruling on the matter – that the Prince should rank before the mayor. A fifteenth-century precedent was then unearthed which, showing Henry V’s brothers had ceded place to the lord mayor, apparently contradicted Charles’s decision on the matter, but ‘notwithstanding the King kept his first opinion; alledg- ing that forms of Ceremonies were changed in the world since that time; & that those Dukes were the Kings own brothers; yet they were his subjects; which the Prince of Orange was not’.4
When the City of London refused to give way on the matter, the King simply declined to attend and the dinner was cancelled.
Still an ‘ordinary’ visitor, though a nephew of the King, William was fortunate to have with him the elder statesman who had served both his father and his grandfather as secretary, and who was as thoroughly conversant with English court ways as Huygens.
The debts owing to the House of Orange which Huygens undertook to recover included the dowry Charles I had contracted to pay William’s grandfather when William’s father and mother were married (hastily, on the eve of the first English Civil War, in 1642), and substantial sums later advanced to Queen Henrietta Maria for ships and weapons to assist the Royalist cause: ‘The English King owed [William] 2,797,859 guilders, a debt which included the unpaid dowry of his mother, worth 900,000 guilders … From the financial viewpoint William’s journey had little result. The King and his nephew agreed to reduce the debt to 1,800,000 guilders, but the English King again proved to be a bad payer.’5
Among the Huygens letters in the Royal Collection at The Hague is a copy of the final letter from Charles II to William, who had returned to the Low Countries ahead of his old retainer, written during that residency. It displays real affection for the elderly diplomat, whom the English King has known from boyhood, which is presumably why Huygens carefully kept a copy among his papers:
I am not a little ashamed that I have delayd Monsieur de Zulichem from time to time with promise of a speedy dispatch, and according to what I haue written to you in my former letters. The funds giuen me by the Parliament haue fallen infinitely short of their first computations which hath disturbed and made almost ineffectuall all my orders; so that it were to abuse you to giue you any of them.
In spite of Huygens’s best efforts, Charles is evasive about the repayment. But he lets Prince William know that Huygens has been tireless in pursuit of the debt:
I cannot finish this letter, which I meane to communicate to the bearer before I seal it up, before I lett you know how troublesome a sollicitor he hath been to me, though a most zealous one for you and consequently how worthy he is of the continuance of your esteem and good will.
Charles writes to William in English, which Huygens spoke and wrote with almost native fluency. In his archive, Huygens heads it in French, the language of the Dutch élite. The exchange is clear evidence of Stuart– Orange understanding at a ‘family’ or domestic level, and of Huygens’s pivotal role in crafting that relationship, vital to William’s national and international political future.
The money, as I said, was never forthcoming (Charles II rarely settled his debts, and the 1670s were a particularly parlous time for his exchequer), but the sentiments expressed by the Stuart King towards Huygens may be taken to be sincere. Since the long-term result of this visit was the marriage alliance between James, Duke of York’s daughter Mary (Charles’s niece) and William, the anglophile Huygens’s negotiations and bridge-building between the House of Orange and the Stuarts may be judged to have been a success overall. Indeed, I want to argue that Huygens’s activities on either side of the Narrow Sea represent a version of Anglo–Dutch intellectual, cultural and political accord in the seventeenth century which, whilst unfamiliar, actually sums up the age.
Recently, I came across another piece of epistolary evidence for the way the unexpected closeness of Anglo–Dutch accord – the almost cosy personal relations between William’s circle and the Stuart court – had (or in this case, almost had) remarkable historical consequences, leeching away the national protocols separating English affairs from Dutch.
While in London, in December 1670, and presumably following an unrecorded face-to-face encounter, Huygens wrote (in English) to Sir Christopher Wren, the Royal Surveyor, responsible for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, as follows:
The King hath been pleased to keepe a copie of this poor project, and would doe me this morning the honour to commend it with the character of ‘a very good paper’. If it doe but chance to pass for half so good in your liking, Sir, I will hold my paines happily bestowed. I pray you to peruse it, that we may have occasion to conferre about [it], while I am here.6
No further mention of this ‘project’ is to be found in the Huygens archives around this date, but in February 1678 there is a further, clarifying reference, this time in a letter in French to Monsieur Oudart:
It matters little whether my inscriptions have been used for the Column or not. I remain extremely well satisfied that so distinguished a person as Monsieur the Surveyor [Wren] found them to be to his taste, to the point that he produced them to the City officials, and thereby demonstrated to them my good will towards their great and most noble City. I beg you to assure that most excellent personage of my boundless esteem for his great talent and my most ardent affection in his service.7
So, remarkably, the ‘poor project’ which both Wren and Charles II, according to Huygens, found so much to their taste was a set of proposed inscriptions for the plinth of the Monument to the Great Fire.
Sure enough, if we trawl through Constantijn Huygens’s literary works for this period (he was a prolific writer of poetry in four or five languages), there we find two draft Latin inscriptions composed by Huygens in 1670 for this purpose. The second of these concludes: ‘Lignea consumpta es, surgis de marmore: tanti,/O bona, Phoenicem te perijsse fuit./Urbis an exustae clades. dubitabitur olim,/An restauratae gloria maior erat’ (In wooden form you have been consumed [by fire], you are resurrected in marble… etc.).8
The Prince of Orange’s arrival in London in late 1670 followed awkwardly on the heels of Charles II’s signing of the secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV against the Dutch, in June of that year. Strictly speaking, England and Holland were on the brink of war (the third Anglo–Dutch war was eventually declared following France’s invasion of Holland two years later). Yet here is William’s most senior adviser, closely involved in discussions with the English King and his Royal Surveyor concerning Dutch involvement in the memorial to England’s most recent national calamity.
Neither Huygens’s commemorative inscription, nor remarkably similar ones which Wren himself proposed, were in the end used.9 On 4 October 1677 the Court of Aldermen of the City of London minuted their final decision as to the inscriptions:
This Court doth desire Dr Gale Master of the Schoole of St Paul to consider and devise a fitting inscription to be set on the new Pillar at Fishstreet Hill, and to consult therein with Sr Christopher Wren Knt his Matie’s Surveyor Generall and Mr Hooke And then to present the same unto this court.10
‘Within three weeks of the first meeting of the inscription committee, the Court of Aldermen, having heard from the lord mayor that Charles II had “very well approved” the inscriptions’ drafts, decreed that the inscriptions be carved “forthwith”. On October 25, the Court rewarded Gale with “a handsome peice [sic] of plate”.’11
In addition to his reputation as a cultivated diplomat, a man of good taste and a considerable musician, Huygens was renowned, particularly in his native Holland, as an accomplished poet in Latin, Dutch, French, English and Italian. The lines he had suggested and crafted for the as yet unbuilt Monument, the construction of which was indeed being widely discussed during the period of his 1670 stay in London,12 were not the first he had been encouraged to propose for an internationally famous memorial. Indeed, in all likelihood it was his poetic involvement in an earlier memorial project which had led to the subject of the Monument inscription becoming a topic of conversation at the English court.
In 1620, the twenty-two-year-old Huygens, with the support of his older poetic colleague Daniel Heinsius, had been given the task of composing the epitaph for the magnificent tomb of William the Silent (assassinated in 1584), erected by the States General in the New Church at Delft, designed by Hendrick de Keyser. The imposing monument was commissioned and built during the period 1618–23, as the inscription stresses, to commemorate the ‘Father of the Fatherland’, who had defended the Low Countries against the threat to freedom and Protestant religious practice. It became the key national monument to the House of Orange, a tourist destination for Netherlanders from all over the country, and was regularly depicted in fashionable ‘church interior’ paintings of the Neue Kirk in Delft by a whole range of fashionable artists.
We might reflect on the fact that both William’s tomb and the Monument to the Great Fire were conceived of by those who erected them as standing to posterity in remembrance of such a threat to freedom, and as focal points for Protestant national fervour. Be this as it may, this book has, I hope, begun to explain how a Dutchman in his seventies, in the service of the Prince of Orange, almost came to have his most fervently patriotic (English) thoughts inscribed for posterity on the emotionally- charged memorial to a terrible calamity inflicted on the City of London, almost certainly (so it was thought at the time) at the hands of Catholic foreigners.
I choose this episode as the foil for my concluding remarks because it would have seemed entirely unlikely to me, at the beginning of the intellectual journey which gave rise to the present book, that a man as passionate in the service of the Dutch house of Orange as Sir Constantijn Huygens, and so patriotic an Englishman as Sir Christopher Wren, should in the 1670s have unselfconsciously collaborated in a project like the London Monument to the Great Fire of 1666. Or that Huygens should have been so sensitive to English mores, and so attuned to English attitudes and beliefs, that he could confidently propose his own cultural creation, seamlessly to be incorporated into the lasting fabric of England’s memorial history.
And this is not the end of the story of the interwoven interests and activities of Sir Constantijn Huygens and Sir Christopher Wren, and their impact on the cultural life of London in the 1670s. A second instance, dating from 1674–75, which once again came to my attention as I was conducting my research on Anglo–Dutch cultural and intellectual collaboration and exchange, is equally unexpected.
In March 1674, Huygens wrote a letter to Wren from The Hague, which was carried to him by the eminent Sephardic rabbi and scholar from Amsterdam, Jacob Judah Leon (known, because of his expertise in ancient places of worship, as ‘Templo’):
This bearer is a Jew by birth and profession, and I [am] bound to him for some instructions I had from him, long ago, in the Hebrew literature. This maketh me grant him the addresses he desireth of me; his intention being to shew in England a curious model of the Temple of Salomon, he hath been about to continue these manij ijears. Where bij he doth presume to haue demonstrated and corrected an infinite number of errors and paralogismes of our most learned scholars who haue meddled with the exposition of that holij fabrick, and most specfiallij of the Jesuit Villalpandus.
Leon’s exhibition of models of the Biblical buildings was famous – Edward Browne, who we encountered sightseeing in the Netherlands in 1668, made sure to visit his ‘model of the Temple of Solomon, of Solomon’s house, the Fort of the Temple, the Tabernacle and many other curiosities’ while he was in Amsterdam.13 Now Huygens’s letter introduced Leon to Wren, in the hope that he might bring the exhibition to London:
Before all, I have thought I was to bring him acquainted with yourself. who are able to judge of the matter upon better and surer grounds than any man liuing. I give him also Letters to the Portingal Ambassador to Mylord Arlington and Mr Oldenburg, that some notice may be taken of him both at the Court, and amongst those of the Royal Society. If you will be so good as to direct him unto Mylord Archbishop of Canterbury.14
Huygens’s letter of introduction was written in response to a direct approach made to him at the court of William of Orange by Leon himself the previous year.15 And his intervention was successful. Through his and Wren’s efforts, the contents of Leon’s museum of architectural models, including his much-admired wooden model of the original Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, based on descriptions in the sacred texts, together with his extensive ‘museum’ of models of other historic buildings, were shipped to London. Leon died while on a return trip to the Netherlands in 1675, but his exhibition remained for many years in England.16
The arrival of Leon’s models produced a flurry of interest in reconstructed ancient Biblical architecture. Robert Hooke recorded in his diary, early in September 1675: ‘With Sir Chr. Wren. Long Discourse with him about the module of the Temple at Jerusalem.’17A good deal has been written by Dutch historians of architecture about the influence of the reconstructions of the Biblical buildings on Dutch church architecture in the second half of the seventeenth century. It is perhaps time for a similar kind of exploration of the effect of the collection of models brought to London by Leon on Wren and his contemporaries’ ecclesiastical architecture.
On a number of occasions while I have been writing this book, distinguished Dutch academics have expressed the hope to me that I would provide a picture of how, in the seventeenth century, Dutch fortunes declined as English fortunes grew, which was more sensitive to the Dutch side of the story.
The Dutch have always felt aggrieved at the way in which wealth, power and influence seeped away from the United Provinces at the beginning of the eighteenth century, as those of Britain increased. They have seen their diminishing role on the international scene as directly related to England’s rise. I hope that I have shown here that they are broadly right in thinking so. William III and his wife Mary Stuart carried with them into England not just the hopes and aspirations of a generation, but much of their tax revenue and wealth. Hence the word ‘plundered’ in my subtitle, though the process was, as I hope I have shown, considerably more subtle and extended than that word perhaps implies.
I hope I have indeed managed to paint a more colourful and varied picture of Anglo–Dutch relations and their outcome at the end of the seventeenth century, and thereby done something towards setting the record straight. It was the case then, and remains the case today, I believe, that the English and the Dutch share a remarkable amount in terms of outlook, fundamental beliefs, aspirations and sense of identity.
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it is fascinating to watch British and Dutch commerce continuing to share fundamental attitudes and outlooks, which have facilitated large-corporation mergers to produce major Anglo–Dutch interests – the formation of Corus Steel in 1999 by the merger of British Steel and Koninklijke Hoogovens, for instance, and most recently the ongoing negotiations towards a proposed merger between a British bank and the Dutch bank ABN Amro, to create one of the world’s biggest financial institutions.
I have come to feel a deep sense of shared values and common purpose with the people of the Netherlands in the course of carrying out my research. In the end this book is intended to be a celebration of our equal sharing in events in history at the beginning of our modern mercantile and consumerist age – our ‘going Dutch’.
Huygens Family Tree
Stuart Family Tree
House of Orange Family Tree