Category Archives: History of the Low Countries

A bracing brace of Bentincks

3rd Duke of Portland / alaintruong.com

3rd Duke of Portland / alaintruong.com

Hans Willem, Baron Bentinck was born in the middle of the seventeenth century. An aristocrat by birth, he served as a page to the Stadholder (q.v.) William. Surviving his master’s customary bad humour, he became a confidant, friend and agent to the future King William III of England. We have already described how a Dutchman became king of England in another volume of General History, so suffice it to say that William was married to Mary, who descended from Mary Queen of Scots. Thanks to the treachery of Marlborough and others, the rightful monarch of England, James II, was requested to leave, which he did, and William and Mary became joint rulers of England. The good Baron Bentinck came with them.

In fact it was thanks to Bentinck that the marriage between the Stadholder and Princess Mary ( a daughter of James VII and II of Scotland and England ) came about, as he negotiated the terms. Not only that, but the plans for a minor invasion of England by William of Holland in 1688 were supervised by Bentinck. Minor became major, James II ran off to Catholic France, and surly William the Stadholder mounted the English throne accompanied by his wife, who was not blessed with good looks. Once William was installed he rewarded his faithful confidant by making him the Ist Duke of Portland (1689). The ‘Glorious Revolution’ had been achieved with little bloodshed, and the name Bentinck began to ring through British political history. Hans Willem died in 1709. Continue reading

Burgundy: Kingdom,Duchy and House

An artist's impression of Burgundian knights in gothic armour / pinterest.com

An artist’s impression of Burgundian knights in gothic armour / pinterest.com

Burgundy, a region of France, was first a kingdom after the collapse of the Roman Empire, roughly speaking the fifth century. It was incorporated into the Carolingian Empire, divided by the Treaty of Verdun, and finally combined with the Kingdom of Provence in the tenth century.

Dukes of Burgundy, though sometimes richer than kings of France, and owning more land, towns, hamlets and troops, were in fact officially vassals, as indeed was the King of England. Even Henry II Plantagenet paid hommage to the French king; Burgundy was the greates of these vassals. Many dukes tried to gain independence from the royal family, and were prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their purpose. No French king, however wealthy or in need of finance, was able to trust a Duke of Burgundy. Continue reading

Three battles at Ypres (1914, 1915 & 1917)

/ the guardian.co.uk

/ the guardian.co.uk

Ypres is a place in Belgium, known mainly by Great War enthusiasts who are taken on guided tours. In October and November of the first year of the war a major German offensive to outflank the British Expeditionary Force had to be stopped – and it was – but the battle area was left still dominated on three sides by German armies, commanding the heights. This was the first Battle of Ypres.

The second took place in April and May 1915, and was notable for the first use of poison gas by the Kaiser’s armies. This gas was chlorine-based, and gas masks on the heads of allied soldiers were also seen for the first time. They did not work as efficiently as the boffins had predicted. Thousands of troops had to be invalided back into France and Britain, suffering from the gas, which left them crippled in mind and body. In terms of strategy, this second battle at Ypres forced the British to shorten their line of defence in what was called ‘The Ypres Salient’. Continue reading

A new head of the House of Alba

The Duchess starts her third marriage / nick verreos.blogsite.com

The Duchess starts her third marriage / nick verreos.blogsite.com

The best known duchess in Spain, probably Europe too, has died after a long life (1926 – 2014) and a short but fatal illness. She was Cayetana, made 18th Duchess of Alba in 1954 after the death of her father the Duke. At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War the Albas had left Spain to live in London, where the Duke was Ambassador until the Treaty of Lausanne.

The new (19th) Duke of Alba /vanitatis.com

The new (19th) Duke of Alba /vanitatis.com

The new Duke of Alba is Carlos Fitzjames-Stuart, a prematurely white-haired, serious man, separated from his wife, is in his late fifties; he became Duke of Huescar when his mother was named duchess. The white hair might possibly have come about because Carlos’ mother led an extraordinary life, speaking several languages, being much loved by the ordinary people of Sevilla; at the slightest opportunity she would, even in her eighties, throw up her arms in flamenco movements and ululate on the pavement, observed with love by her third and last husband Alfonso Diez, and a certain gloom by her oldest son. Her first husband was another aristocrat, Luis Martínez de Irujo, with whom she had six children, all boys until the last. They are Carlos, Alfonso, Jacobo, Fernando, Cayetano and Eugenia. All have dukedoms. Cayetana had more titles than any other grand aristocratic family in Europe. This privileged position used to be held by another grand duchess, that of Medinaceli, who had more than ninety, but many were lost during the Second Republic, while others simply expired. Continue reading

The Occupation of the Rhur

The 10 million mark note / pjmedia.com

The 10 million mark note / pjmedia.com

The valley of the Rhur, which would become famous enough for a major film to be made of the bombing of its dams during the Second War, was the heart of Germany’s coal, iron and steel production. The Treay of Versailles that ended the First or Great War had ordered a defeated Germany to fork out for the War, and tremendous reparations had to be paid. But how? And with what? The country was ruined by the War, and most of her machinery was destroyed or lay idle. A huge chunk of her male generation were dead, and untrained old men or boys could not run the factories or the mines. Germany therefore defaulted on her reparation payment, which should not have come as a surprise.

   In January 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Rhur therefore, with failure of payment as an unsteady excuse. Both Britain and the United States protested, but M. Poincaré, the French Prime Minister, said that the problem was not that the Germans could not pay but that they did not want to. The two allies would therefore stay in the Rhur until she did pay, and exploit the industrial riches there too. Continue reading

Colonization

/ from a painting by Angus McBride - posterlounge.co.uk

/ from a painting by Angus McBride – posterlounge.co.uk

These days the word strikes a sour note, arousing images of rough settlements, starving ‘piccaninies’, whips, shackles, thoughtless government from a distance of thousdands of miles etc. If there are any ‘colonies’ left after the post-war rush to be rid of them I think it is because the ‘colonists’ prefer it that way. 90% of colonies which achieved independence have suffered under bad or atrocious rule since being ‘freed’, with the possible exception of the United States, and even there half the settlers in the Thirteen Colonies claimed they did not wish for independence from British rule, and after 1776 sold up lock, stock and barrel and moved to Canada, where they were welcomed. Continue reading

The Anglo-Dutch Wars, Maarten & Cornelis Tromp, Michiel de Ruyter & Robert Blake

Ruyter causing havoc in the river Thames / badassoftheweek.com

Ruyter causing havoc in the river Thames / badassoftheweek.com

In the seventeenth century two dominating naval powers emerged, following the reduction of the great Spanish Empire and her navy. They were Holland and Britain: commercial and colonial rivalries caused a lot of trouble at sea between these two. Four naval wars were fought at intervals between the Dutch Republic and Britain from 1652 to 1784.

   Historians mostly agree that the first three of these, fought in the second half of the seventeenth century had little positive result. Certainly they did nothing to give supremacy to either nation, but the fourth, fought towards the end of the eighteenth century (1780 – 84), just before ‘curtain up’ in the French Revolution, was badly lost by the Dutch, ending their claim to commercial domination. All these wars did however give a major chance to certain men to behave heroically. Four stand out – one English, the other three Dutch. Continue reading

The Eighty years War & the Council of Blood

The Duke of Alba / pinternet.net

The Duke of Alba / pinternet.net

Rebellion, protest and actual war were made against Spain from 1568 to 1648, in seventeen of the provinces in the Low Countries (now Holland and Belgium). The so-called Council of Blood actually started in 1567, and was a component part of the troubles.

  The Spanish Hapsburgs ruled these provinces as part of the great Spanish Empire. They had originally been under the influence, if not the mandate, of Burgundy but were at last united by Charles V (Carlos Quinto) who was king of Spain as well as Holy Roman Emperor (q.v.). His son, King Philip II (Felipe Segundo) governed the region through his own appointees the regents, emphasising points of taxation and above all religion. Philip was a devout Catholic,and believed in the persecution of Protestants wherever he found them. Continue reading

The battle of the Marne (September 1914)

The river Marne is a tributary of the Seine, leaving it at a point east of Paris. It was also famed for being the site of the furthest advance of the imperial German army into France during the Great War. Readers will remember that the Schlieffen Plan (q.v.) was designed to knock France out of the game in six weeks, before the mobilization of the enormous Russian army. Germany would advance in strength through Belgium, bypassing French defences along the German border, and then sweep down to surround Paris before attacking French forces in the rear.

The Schlieffen Plan might have worked had von Moltke (chief of staff) not enfeebled it by transferring forces from the German right-wing to East Prussia, which the Russians had already invaded. Still the Germans made swift progress through Belgium and northern France, leaving the French to make useless and expensive attacks on German forces in Lorraine and the Ardennes. Continue reading

Revolutions of 1830

 France, Belgium, Poland & Central Italy: The July Revolution in France expelled Charles X and replaced him as King with Louis-Philippe. The Austrian Netherlands belonging to Belgium were united with Holland at the Congress of Vienna (1815), to form the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. But Roman Catholic Belgians (mostly French-speaking) resented the dominance of the Protestant Dutch (Flemish-speaking) in this new state.

After the expulsion of Charles in the July Revolution, there were riots in Brussels, exacerbated by the sending in of Dutch troops in an attempt to restore order. By September most of Belgium was in a state of revolt and Dutch King William asked the Great Powers for help. As Prussia, Russia and Austria were by their nature opposed to revolution and also fans of the monarchy, they were cautious to the extent of being un-cooperative, because if they sent soldiers to help the Dutch, French pressures would be inclined to compel Louis-Philippe to send aid to the Belgians. Continue reading