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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. (more…)

Queen Elizabeth I (the ‘Virgin Queen’)

The queen in 'the Armada Portrait', note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /en.wikipedia.org

The queen in ‘the Armada Portrait’, note the right hand resting comfortably on the globe /en.wikipedia.org

The only half-decent member of the infamous Tudor dynasty was Elizabeth, born in 1533. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. It is a matter for debate from whom Elizabeth inherited the worst genes, though it is admitted that Anne never went to bed with Henry until he was properly divorced from Catharine of Aragon and a marriage between them had taken place; the Catholic Church had meanwhile been assaulted and robbed, Thomas More and others had been shortened by a head etc. etc. (more…)

A seventeenth century diarist – Samuel Pepys

/ en.wikipedia.org

/ en.wikipedia.org

History too is re-cycled, like glass, water, paper and other essenials. A history book is nothing more than a re-thinking, in some cases revising as well, of what an earlier historian wrote in another book. What happened in the world ten thousand years ago on a certain day is History, but then what happened in our world yesterday is History too. Historians have always relied on contempories who were there, in a great battle for instance, survived injured or whole, and wrote about that battle as soon as they could. This particular piece of history might be heard in the form of a ballad, or published as writing, or become a yarn told in taverns. In a recent very serious case, England discovered that their teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, and their teachers’ teachers, relying on published history texts, have been stating untruths for nearly five hundred years. This is the case of King Richard III, last of the Plantagenets, who died on a battlefield. He was everybody’s wicked uncle, a serial murderer, poisoner of his own wife, assassin of his own brother etc. etc since 1485 because the contemporary historians said so. Though it was mostly mythical, it was taught as fact in schools and colleges. Luckily, the very finest texts that can be used by historians, if they have been preserved well, are diaries. Obviously they were written by first-hand witnesses, though many have been embellished, as a diarist’s wont. It was a diarist, a foreigner whose English was questionable, called Polydore Vergil, who wrote most of the lies about Richard. Another contemporary diarist was Thomas More, an official and well paid Tudor historian, who wrote distatefully about Richard because it suited his book to do so. It was pure propaganda, but it kept More’s head on his shoulders – even if only for a while.

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) is probably the most famous and quoted (and misquoted) diarist in world history. He was nothing more than an Admiralty clerk, who rose after the Restoration of Charles II in the ever-growing British Navy. He became Admiralty Secretary in 1672 when he was thirty-nine. Then he lost his job because some imp accused him of involvement in The Popish Plot (1679). It was nonsense, and he was re-instated in 1684. Meanwhile however, he was keeping a diary which became internationally celebrated, running from January, 1660 to May, 1669. It is fascinating because it provides an intimate picture of everyday personal life (Pepys was exceptionately fond of buxom, pretty, large women), court intrigue (the merriest of melancholic monarchs, Charles II, was on the throne), and naval administration. His account of three national disasters, The Great Plague of 1665/66, the Great Fire of London (1666) that followed, and the impertinent but courageous sailing up the Thames Estuary and river itself of the Dutch war fleet and the damage it did – have been quoted and used by historians ever since. It should be noted that these diaries were written in code which was not de-coded until 1825, one hundred and twenty-two years after Pepys’ death at the age of seventy. (more…)

War at sea: (part II)

Cape St. Vincent by Donald Macleod / sellsell.blogspot.com

Cape St. Vincent by Donald Macleod / sellsell.blogspot.com

Spain’s royal champion don Juan of Austria was commander of the Christian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). This was a battle of galleys, luxuriously illustrated by many painters. Both the Turks and the Spanish sailors had the use of cannon mounted on the forecastle. It is said Turkey never truly recovered from defeat in this fight, though they did rebuild their galley fleet. It is interesting to scholars that Cervantes, author of Don Quixote fought at Lepanto in one of the galleys.

   In the seventeenth century rivalry for an eventual domination of the seas raged between Britain and the Dutch. Having cut off the king’s head, Oliver Cromwell as England’s Lord Protector continued the late Charles’ policy of building up a royal navy. Among other things, he introduced the idea of three decks carrying guns, giving enormous fire power from port and starboard. He also developed naval training so that broadsides could be fired more often during a battle. Ships’ crews began rivalling each other in the time taken to load, fire and re-load again, ready for use. Many a bloody scuffle occurred in the Portsmouth taverns as a result of murderous competition; bottles, stools and insults were thrown.

   It was during the reign of the unfortunate king’s son Charles II that his squadrons were first called ‘The Royal Navy’. Diarist Samuel Pepys in his role as a naval administrator also carried out many reforms. Royal Navy or not, they never really dominated the Dutch, but Holland’s economic decline brought naval re-building and reforms almost to a standstill.

   In the eighteenth century it was the French with their fast, elegant warships who put a brake on Britain’s slower-moving, older and heavier ships of the line. But the French ships were less strongly built and more expensive to maintain.By this time most navies’ vessels had copper bottoms for better protection, and occasionally a double hull which helped reduce damage by cannon balls. The epoch had arrived when European navies were composed of state-owned ships especially built to suit conditions.

   During the French Revolution (q.v.) and the Napoleonic wars that followed, the Royal Navy at last began to emerge as the most feared state-owned squadrons. Pressing by the naval press-gang, which was in effect legal kidnapping of able-bodied men from the poorer streets, provided the crews. Discipline was harsh, and depended on the character of the commander. Some used the lash or noose constantly, others did not believe in it, like Nelson, which explains why this little man was so popular. When he was killed at Trafalgar, half the crew of H.M.S Victory, not usually crybabies, were in tears.

   The Royal Navy won a series of spectacular victories against the French and the Spanish, both nations with a deserved reputation for magnificent seamanship: the Glorious First of June in the Atlantic in 1794, Cape St. Vincent in February, 1797, Camperdown in October of the same year, Aboukir Bay in 1798 and Trafalgar in 1805, a sea battle which deeply affected Napoleon’s war plans at least for while. Rear-Admiral Nelson suffered his only defeat in the silly and ill-planned assault on Santa Cruz, port and capital of Tenerife in the Canaries, when local militia and the townspeople fought off Nelson’s attempt at invasion and capture of treasure ships. But Great Britain’s Royal Navy was at last established as the planet’s premier sea power. This reputation lasted a very long time, and the people joyously sang Britannia rules the Waves! Bonaparte had to concentrate on land-based campaigning, for which he had developed great abilities, though his invasion of Russia, like all invasions of Russia, was unsuccessful.


/ 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. (more…)

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. (more…)

By | 2014-08-18T18:01:44+00:00 August 18th, 2014|Dutch History, History of the Low Countries|0 Comments

The War in the Pacific

/ pinterest.com

/ pinterest.com

Officially, this war lasted from December 1941,

/ ww2db.com

/ ww2db.com

when the United States entered the Second World War, until 1945. But the Pacific War really started with the Sino-Japanese War which began in 1937, when Japan’s concern was to defeat China. This was to be achieved by expanding in South-East Asia, so that Japan could control the raw materials on which she so much depended – oil from Dutch East Indies and Burma (now Myanmar); and tin and rubber from Malaya. She had to cut off China’s supply routes from the south, even if this involved friction with the United States. Moving further south involved risk of conflict with Russia in Manchuria (the Russians came off best after a battle with Japan’s army in 1939 at Nomonhan. Then a non-aggression pact was signed with Russia in April, 1941: thankfully, Adolf Hitler did the double-cross and invaded the Soviet Union in June with his Operation Barbarossa (q.v.) (more…)

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. (more…)

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in 1890, of Dutch-American stock. He became a general and the 34th President of the United States. He saw war in a quite different way than another American officer, George Patton (q.v.): ‘I hate war,’ he often said, ‘as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.’ (more…)

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. (more…)

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