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Exercitiegenootschap in Sneek (1786), gathered on the market square.

The Patriottentijd (Dutch, literally "Patriot Period") was a period of political upheaval in the Dutch Republic between approximately 1780 and 1787. The period takes its name from the radical political faction known as the Patriots (Patriotten, pronounced [paːtriˈjɔtə(n)]), led by Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, gaining power from November 1782. They were inspired by Enlightenment ideas, the Patriots opposed the Orangists and the rule of William V, Prince of Orange. In 1787, the Patriots were defeated by a Prussian army and many were forced into exile.



The term Patriot (from Greek πατριώτης, "fellow country(wo)man") had previously been used in the 17th century by anti-Orangists, but when French troops invaded the Republic in 1747, "Patriots" demanded the return of the Orange stadtholderate, which ended the Second Stadtholderless Period (1702–1747). From 1756 onward, however, Dutch States Party regenten once again began styling themselves "Patriots", the Orangist party did try to reappropriate the term, but it was forced on the defensive, which became apparent when it renamed one of its weekly magazines to De Ouderwetse Nederlandsche Patriot ("The Old-Fashioned Dutch Patriot"). Patriotism and anti-Orangism had become synonymous.[1]

The Patriots can be divided into two separate groups: aristocrats and democrats, the aristocratic Patriots (also called oudpatriotten or "Old Patriots"), initially the strongest, can be viewed as oppositional regenten, who either sought to enter the factions in power, or tried to realise the so-called "Loevesteinian" ideal of a republic without Orange; they came from the existing Dutch States Party. The democratic Patriots emerged later, and consisted mainly of non-regent members of the bourgeoisie, who strove to democratise the Republic.[2]

Finally, the term Patriottentijd for the historical era is a historiographical invention of 19th-century Dutch historians, comparable to the terms "First Stadtholderless Period", "Second Stadtholderless Period", and "Fransche Tijd (French Era)" (for the era of the Batavian Republic and the Kingdom of Holland). Herman Theodoor Colenbrander for instance, used the term as the title of one of his main works: De patriottentijd: hoofdzakelijk naar buitenlandsche bescheiden (The Hague, 1897).[Note 1] The term was often used in a pejorative fashion, but lately has acquired a more positive connotation.[3]

Perceived decline of the Dutch Republic[edit]

After the halcyon days of the Dutch Golden Age of the first two-thirds of the 17th century the Dutch economy entered a period of stagnation and relative decline, the absolute size of Dutch GNP remained constant, but the economy was in the course of the 18th century overtaken by that of other European countries. Besides, in a number of economic sectors, like most industries that had sprung up in the early 17th century, and the fisheries, there occurred an absolute decline, the deindustrialization of the country resulted in de-urbanization as artisans that had worked in the disappearing industries had to move to areas where work was still to be found. The shrinking industrial base was also concentrating in particular areas, to the detriment of other areas where certain industries (shipbuilding, textiles) had formerly been prominent. Remarkably for an era of rapid population growth in other European countries, the size of the Dutch population remained constant during the 18th century at around 1.9 million people, which (in view of the constant absolute size of the economy) resulted in a constant per capita income. But this was somewhat misleading as economic inequality markedly increased during the 18th century: the economy became dominated by a small group of very rich rentiers, and the economy shifted to what we would now call a Service economy, in which the commercial sector (always strong in the Netherlands) and the banking sector dominated. These shifts had a devastating effect for the people who experienced downward social mobility and ended up in the lower strata of Dutch society, but even those that were not affected by such downward mobility, and remained in the upper and middle classes, were affected by this perceived economic decline.

The economic decline worked through in the political sphere as after the Peace of Utrecht of 1713 the government of the Dutch Republic felt constrained to enter upon a policy of austerity as a consequence of the dire state of the Dutch public finances. Both the mercenary Dutch States Army and the Dutch navy suffered a large shrinkage in the ensuing period, and consequently the Republic had to give up the pretence of being a European great power, in the military sense, with the diplomatic consequences that entailed, it became clear that the Republic had become a pawn in European Power politics, depending on the good will of other countries, like France, Prussia and Great Britain. This decline in international diplomatic standing contributed also to the malaise that resulted from the perceived decline.[4]

Growing disaffection with the political system[edit]

William V, c. 1768–1769.

The disaffection with the perceived state of the economy and diplomatic decline was paired with a growing disaffection with the political system of the Dutch Republic among middle class Dutchmen, the Dutch "constitution"[Note 2] defined the Dutch Republic as a Confederation of sovereign provinces with a Republican character.[Note 3] Formally, power was supposed to flow upward, from the local governments (governments of select cities that possessed City Rights, and the aristocracy in rural areas) toward the provincial States, and eventually the States-General, those local governments, however, though ostensibly representing "The People" according to the prevailing ideology, had in fact involved into oligarchies dominated by a few families that in the cities at least were not formally part of the nobility, but were considered "patrician" in the classical sense. The members of the regenten class co-opted each other in the city Vroedschap which elected the city magistrates and sent delegates to the regional and national States. This situation had come about gradually, as in medieval times corporate institutions, like the guilds and schutterijen had sometimes had at least nominating powers to the vroedschappen, bestowing a certain amount of political power on members of the middle class (though calling this "democracy" would be an exaggeration).

The concentration of power in a more and more closed oligarchy frustrated the middle class, that saw its opportunities for social advancement blocked, also because the political patronage in regard to all kinds of petty offices was concentrated in the hands of the oligarchs, who favoured their own political allies. Though offices were often venal and for sale, this fact was ironically less resented than the fact that those offices were not available on the same footing to everyone.[5] Opening up the political system to the middle class had therefore been an objective of political reformers like the so-called Doelisten[Note 4] who in 1747 helped elevate the Frisian stadtholder William IV to stadtholder in all seven provinces, on a hereditary basis, with greatly expanded powers, in hopes that he would use those powers to promote the political influence of the would-be "democrats." That hope proved vain, also because of his untimely death in 1751, after which he was succeeded by his infant son William V, who was three years of age at the time, so actual power devolved upon regents, first the dowager Princess of Orange, and after her death in 1759, Duke Louis Ernest of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who saw even less merit in "democratic" experiments. The greatly expanded powers of the stadtholder meanwhile consisted primarily in his right of appointment, or at least approval, of magistrates on the local and provincial level, which were enshrined in the so-called regeringsreglementen (Government Regulations) adopted by most provinces in 1747, these powers allowed him to overrule the elections by the local vroedschappen if the results did not comport with his wishes, and so bestowed great powers of political patronage on the local level on him (and the regents who ruled in place of his son). The end result was that the "States party" regenten that had ruled the country during the Second Stadtholderless Period were replaced by Orangist party men, who were ideologically opposed to popular influence, closing the door to "democratic" experiments. Though the "democrats" had been in the Orangist camp in 1747, they therefore soon came into an alliance of convenience with the disenfranchised "States party" regenten.[6]

The American imbroglio[edit]

The American Declaration of Independence did not elicit enthusiasm from everyone in the Dutch Republic, once it became known there in August 1776, the stadtholder wrote to the greffier of the States-General, Hendrik Fagel, that it was only "... the parody of the proclamation issued by our forefathers against king Philip II".[Note 5] But others were less scornful. Dutch merchants (especially in the Amsterdam Chamber of the moribund WIC) had long chafed against the restrictions the British Navigation Acts imposed on direct trade with the American Colonies, the American Revolution opened new perspectives on unfettered trade, though for the moment primarily on the smuggling route via the WIC colony of Sint Eustatius. That Entrepôt soon became an important export port for the supply of the American rebels with Dutch arms,[7] the Amsterdam regenten especially were interested in opening formal trade negotiations with the Continental Congress} and secret diplomacy was soon embarked upon by the pensionaries of a number of mercantile cities, like Engelbert François van Berckel and Cornelis de Gijselaar, behind the back of the stadtholder and the States-General. The French ambassador to the Republic Vauguyon arranged contacts with the American ambassador to the French court, Benjamin Franklin in 1778, which in time led to the sending out of John Adams as emissary to the Republic. In 1778 there also were secret negotiations between the Amsterdam banker Jean de Neufville and the American agent in Aachen William Lee, the two concluded a secret agreement on a treaty of amity and commerce between the two Republics, the draft of which was discovered by the British when they intercepted ambassador-to-the-Netherlands-to-be Henry Laurens at sea. They used this as a casus belli for the start of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War in 1781 (together with the actions from Dutch territory by the American privateer John Paul Jones, and the planned Dutch accession to the First League of Armed Neutrality).[8]

The war went disastrously for the Dutch, despite the fact that the Dutch fleet had been enlarged appreciably in the preceding years[9], but it was scarcely used by the Dutch command, with the stadtholder, as Admiral-General, in supreme command, at the start of the war a number of Dutch warships were surprised by ships of the Royal Navy, who according to the Dutch, sneaked up under a false flag, and when they had approached the unsuspecting Dutchmen (who were not yet aware of the start of the war), ran up their true colours and opened fire. The Dutch ships then struck their colours after firing a single broadside in reply "to satisfy honour." In this way individual ships, and even a complete squadron, were lost.[10] The British blockaded the Dutch coast without much response of the Dutch fleet. There was one big battle between a Dutch squadron under rear-admiral Johan Zoutman and a British one under vice-admiral Sir Hyde Parker, which ended inconclusive, but on the whole the Dutch fleet remained in port, due to a state of "unreadiness" according to the Dutch commanders.[11] This lack of activity caused great dissatisfaction among Dutch shippers who wanted convoy protection against the British, and also among the population at large, who felt humiliated by what many saw as "cowardice", the stadtholder was generally blamed.[12] After a brief wave of euphoria due to Zoutman's heroics (which were duly exploited in the official propaganda[13]) the navy again earned the disapproval of public opinion due to inactivity, this only increased after the States-General in 1782 agreed with France on a naval alliance or concert that would lead to a joint action against Great Britain. To that end a Dutch fleet of ten ships of the line would in 1783 be sent to the French port of Brest to unite with the French fleet there. However, a direct order to set sail was disobeyed by the Dutch naval top with again the excuse of "unreadiness", but some officers, like vice-admiral Lodewijk van Bylandt let it be known that they did not want to cooperate with the French,[14] this led to a scandal, known as the Brest Affair in which Pieter Paulus, the fiscal (prosecutor) of the Admiralty of Rotterdam was to lead an inquest, but it never led to a conviction. But the damage to the reputation of the Dutch navy and the stadtholder as its commander-in-chief in Dutch public opinion was appreciable, and this undermined the regime.[15]

The stadtholder was not the only one reminded by the American Declaration of Independence of its Dutch equivalent of 1581. Many others saw an analogy between the American Revolution and the Dutch Revolt and this helped engender much sympathy for the American cause in Dutch public opinion. When John Adams arrived in the Netherlands from Paris in 1780, in search of Dutch loans for the financing of the American struggle, he came armed with a long list of Dutch contacts, but at first it was an uphill struggle to interest the Dutch elite.[16] Adams set to work to influence public opinion with the help of a number of those Dutch contacts he enumerates in a letter to United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs Robert Livingstone of 4 September 1782.[17] He mentions the Amsterdam lawyer Hendrik Calkoen, who was very interested in the American cause, and who posed thirty questions on the matter that Adams answered in a number of letters, that were later bundled and published as an influential pamphlet. Calkoen was keen to again emphasise the analogy between the Dutch and American struggles for independence,[18] he also mentions the Luzac family that published the Gazette de Leyde, an influential newspaper, whose publisher Jean Luzac supported the American cause by publicising the American constitutional debate. The Gazette was the first European newspaper to carry a translation of the Constitution of Massachusetts, principally authored by Adams, on 3 October 1780;[19] in that context Adams also mentions the journalist Antoine Marie Cerisier and his periodical le Politique hollandais.[20] Another propagandist for the American cause, who drew inferences to the Dutch political situation, was the Overijssel maverick nobleman Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol, who had the Declaration of Independence, and other American constitutional documents, translated into Dutch. By these propagandistic activities the "American-Dutch" causes became intertwined in the public's mind as a model of "republican fraternity".[21] Adams himself harped on this theme in the "Memorial" he presented to the States-General to obtain acceptance of his credentials as ambassador on 19 April 1781:

The immediate audience of the "Memorial" may have been sceptical, but elsewhere the document made a great impression.[23]

The Patriot Revolt[edit]

The pamphlet "To the People of the Netherlands"[edit]

The first page of Aan het Volk van Nederland.

In the night of 25 to 26 September 1781 an anonymous pamphlet, entitled Aan het Volk van Nederland (To the People of the Netherlands) was distributed in a number of Dutch cities, it was later discovered that it had been written by Adams' friend Van der Capellen and that its successful distribution had been organised by François Adriaan van der Kemp. Though the pamphlet was immediately proscribed as seditious by the authorities it enjoyed a wide circulation.[24]

"Seditious" it certainly was, as the pamphlet repeatedly exhorted the burghers of the Netherlands to arm themselves and take matters into their own hands. As was usual at the time, the pamphlet contained a romanticized overview of Dutch history, going back to the mythical Bataven, and taking the Middle Ages and the early history of the Republic in stride, but the perspective was decidedly anti-stadtholderian, and emphasized that the people are the true proprietors, the lords and masters of the country, not the nobles and regenten. The author likens the country to a great company, like the VOC in which the administrators serve the shareholders. "...The great that are governing you, the Prince or whoever has any authority in this country, only do this on your behalf. All of their authority derives from you...All men are born free. By nature, no one has any authority over anyone else, some people may be gifted with a better understanding, a stronger body or greater wealth than others, but this does not in the least entitle the more sensible, stronger or wealthier to govern the less sensible, the weaker and the poorer...In these companies, usually called civil societies, peoples or nations, the members or participants pledge to promote each others' happiness as much as possible, to protect each other with united force and to maintain each other in an uninterrupted enjoyment of all property, possessions and all inherited and lawfully acquired rights..." The author then continues with a diatribe against the stadtholder: "...There is no freedom and no freedom can exist in a country where one single person has the hereditary command over a large army, appoints and dismisses the country's regents and keeps them in his power and under his influence, deals with all the offices, and by his influence on the appointments of professors controls the subject matter that is being taught to the country's youth studying in universities, where the people is kept ignorant, where the people is unarmed and has nothing in the world..." Therefore: "...Anything which is attempted at this time to save our truly almost irretrievably lost fatherland will be in vain, if you, o people of the Netherlands, remain passive bystanders any longer. So do this! Assemble each and everyone in your cities and in the villages in the country. Assemble peacefully and elect from the midst of you a moderate number of good, virtuous, pious men... Send these as your commissioners to the meeting places of the Estates of your Provinces and order them make, together with the Estates ...a precise inquiry into the reasons for the extreme slowness and weakness with which the protection of this country against a formidable and especially active enemy is being treated ...Let your commissioners publicly and openly report to you about their actions from time to time by means of the press...Arm yourselves, all of you, and elect yourselves the ones that must command you. Act with calmness and modesty in all things (like the people of America, where not one drop of blood was shed before the English attacked them in the first place)..."[Note 6]

These themes: the primacy of the people, whose servants the politicians are; the need to arm the people in units who elect their own officers; to elect commissioners who investigate government wrongdoing, as a parallel source of power next to the existing institutions; the need to protect the freedom of the press; would be repeated time after time in other Patriot pamphlets and the Patriot press in later years. But these ideas were rooted in a particular perspective on Dutch history, not in abstract philosophical ideas, taken from the French Enlightenment, it was a mixture of old and new ideas, and attitudes to the Dutch constitution. But this mixture would diverge into two distinctive strands in the course of the next few years, until it would lead to an ideological split between the "aristocratic" and "democratic" Patriots.[25]

The exercitiegenootschappen[edit]

Patriots won the Battle of Jutphaas near Utrecht on 9 May 1787.

From 1783 onwards, the Patriots formed militia or paramilitary groups called exercitiegenootschappen or vrijcorpsen.[26] They tried to persuade the prince and city governments to allow non-Calvinists into the vroedschap.[citation needed] In 1784, they held their first national meeting, the total number of Patriot volunteer militiamen is estimated to have been around 28,000.[26]

The Leids Ontwerp (Leiden Draft), an important Patriot manifesto, was drawn up after the Leiden exercitiegenootschap was prohibited from performing its drill maneuvers on 23 July 1785 by the city government. In response a congress of the representatives of the Holland exercitiegenootschappen commissioned a group of members, among whom Wybo Fijnje, Pieter Vreede, and Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck to write the manifesto along the lines of the draft they discussed in a meeting on 4 October 1785. This resulted in the publication of the manifesto, entitled Ontwerp om de Republiek door eene heilzaame Vereeniging van Belangen van Regent en Burger van Binnen Gelukkig en van Buiten Gedugt te maaken", Leiden, aangenomen bij besluit van de Provinciale Vergadering van de Gewapende Corpsen in Holland, op 4 oktober 1785 te Leiden (Design to make the Republic inwardly contented and outwardly feared by a salutary union of interests of Regent and Citizen) in which among other things the abolition of the right of approval of city-government appointments of the stadtholder was proposed, to be replaced by democratic elections.[27]

The aristocrats were divided, into Orangists, republicans and democrats, and from summer 1785 more and more republicans backed the prince.[citation needed] The prince was unwilling to carry out reforms, yet unable to take necessary decisions; in the city of Utrecht the Orangist members of the government were sent home by the local militia under Quint Ondaatje, a burgher from Colombo. Another big name, Herman Willem Daendels, failed to get a seat in the local government, when state troops occupied the small city of Hattem.

In September 1787, after the local militias were defeated by a Prussian army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, many of the Patriots fled to France, settling in the area around Dunkirk, where they were able to understand the Flemish Dutch spoken locally.

In the Dutch Republic five leaders were sentenced to death and, although none of these sentences were carried through, all five were forced to leave the Netherlands; in 1789, two radical leaders Francis Adrian Vanderkemp and Adam Gerard Mappa moved to the USA at the invitation of George Washington. In 1795, a few years after the French Revolution, the Patriots remaining in Northern France returned and with the help of a French army founded the Batavian Republic.

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Blaas discusses Colenbrander's dissertation and the reactions it elicited from other Dutch historians, like Petrus Johannes Blok,, and their different perspectives on the era in the context of Dutch historiography; Cf. Blaas, op.cit.. It should be recognised that the Dutch do not have a monopoly on the term Patriottentijd; in Belgian historiography the term refers to the almost contemporaneous period of upheaval in Belgian history in which the short-lived United Belgian States were founded. Cf. Sleeckx, , J.L.D., De Patriottentijd (1889)
  2. ^ Not in the sense of a written basic law, but in the sense of a body of charters and treaties, like the Great Privilege, the Union of Utrecht, and the treaties that defined Dutch independence, like the Peace of Münster, that together defined the Dutch political institutions.
  3. ^ I.e. in which sovereignty resided in the medieval institutions of the provincial States, like the States of Holland, and the States General on the confederal level, and not -at least since 1588- in a king or prince, least of all in the vestigial office of the stadtholder.
  4. ^ Named after the buildings where they congregated during the Orangist Revolution of 1747, like the Kloveniersdoelen.
  5. ^ William V to H. Fagel, 20 August 1776, in: Kramer, F.J.I (ed.), Archives ou correspondance inédite de la maison d’Orange-Nassau, 5th series, 3 vols. (Leiden 1910-1915), vol I, p. 449.
  6. ^ Cf. the translation of "To the people of the Netherlands" by A. Wilschut [1]


  1. ^ Kossman, p. 45
  2. ^ Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. "patriotten". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  3. ^ Cf. W. van der Zwaag, Patriottenbeweging en geschiedschrijving Bezinning-Achtergrond (1990) in Digibron
  4. ^ Schama, pp. 24-45
  5. ^ Schama, p. 50
  6. ^ Schama, pp. 45-58
  7. ^ Tuchman, B.W., The First Salute: A View of the American Revolution. New York: Knopf/Random House, 1988. ISBN 0394553330
  8. ^ Schama, pp. 61-63
  9. ^ de Jonge, pp. 431-433, 471-475
  10. ^ de Jonge, pp. 447-467
  11. ^ de Jonge, pp. 479-487
  12. ^ de Jonge, p. 487
  13. ^ de Jonge, pp. 495-561
  14. ^ de Jonge, p. 620 and note 1
  15. ^ de Jonge, pp. 600-659
  16. ^ Schama, pp. 59-60
  17. ^ Adams, pp. 616-626
  18. ^ Schama, p. 60; Adams, p. 623
  19. ^ Schama, p. 60
  20. ^ Adams, p. 623
  21. ^ Schama, p. 61
  22. ^ Adams, p. 399
  23. ^ Schama, p. 60
  24. ^ Schama, p. 65
  25. ^ Schama, pp. 67-69
  26. ^ a b Kossmann, 49.
  27. ^ Postma, J, Het Leids ontwerp, in: Openbaar Bestuur, vol. 18, no. 11 (November 2008), pp. 38-40[2]


  • Adams, J. (1852), The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, Volume 7
  • Blaas, P.B.M., (2000), De patriottenbeweging als epiloog: rond Colennbranders "Patriottentijd" in : Geschiedenis en nostalgie: de historiografie van een kleine natie met een groot verleden : verspreide historiografische opstellen, pp. 82-98 [3] (in Dutch)
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  • Israel, J.I. (1995), The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477-1806, Oxford University Press,ISBN 0-19-873072-1 hardback, ISBN 0-19-820734-4 paperback
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  • Ernst Heinrich Kossmann (2005)), De Lage Landen 1780-1980. Twee eeuwen Nederland en België. Deel I: 1780–1914. Amsterdam/Antwerp: Olympus (part of Atlas Contact) (in Dutch)
  • Mens, S. (2013), De Patriottentijd. Waarom mislukte de Patriottische opstand? (1781-1787) (thesis) (in Dutch)
  • Schama, S. (1977), Patriots and Liberators. Revolution in the Netherlands 1780-1813, New York, Vintage books, ISBN 0-679-72949-6