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Empire: Total War

by Yukitsu

Part 3: November 8 Broadcast

You are listening to BBC radio 4. In an hour, we will be presenting part 16 of the docudrama “Istanbul: The Gem of the Middle East”, which has moved here from BBC radio 3. For the next hour, Professor David Stephenson will be presenting a documentary on the second 80 years war of the eighteenth century. This series will be running every third day, up to 50 episodes. If you want news of the current war in the Middle East please channel in to BBC radio 1.

Good evening, and welcome to BBC radio 4. I’m Professor David Stephenson, professor of Dutch historical studies at Cambridge. This is the third part of our 50 episode special on the second 80 years war over Europe. Joining me for these broadcasts are fellow researchers and scholars Doctor Albert Andrews, specialist in German studies from the Berlin academy, Professor Robert Lowe, specialist in French studies at Cambridge, and a graduate student and technical assistant, Anton Thatcher. Last segment, we discussed the exciting Dutch invasion of Paris, as well as their subsequent raid on Flanders. The Dutch army, outdated and outgunned, now braced themselves for retaliation to come at them from all across Europe.

And whether the government was up to the task of holding through the coming discontent was the key issue of the spring election of 1704. The main parties were the Orange party, the more right wing, war like party who wished to invest a great deal of power into the Statdholder, who acted as a military ruler in times of war, but whom was relatively powerless during peace time. The other party was the more liberal Republican Party who wished to invest greater power to the various ministers and to corporations and finances.

Debate among the voting elite in Holland.

The Republican opposition, completely untested in a time of war, were completely demolished in the debates. The Republicans were constantly shut down with cries of “Orange over France!” in support of the Orange party, which had played up their spectacular victory over the French during the election, promising that not only could they repeat these victories over the rebellious French, but carry through by defeating the Spanish. The Republicans had attempted to warn the Dutch that their rampage through Europe would bring upon them the wrath of a great many nations, and that they needed to moderate their violence and conquests. Their words went unheeded. The Dutch nation had defeated a European super power. The world opened up to them presenting opportunities that they could have never dreamed of.

Orange remains a patriotic colour to the Dutch to this day.

Statdholder William the third won a landslide victory with a crushing 90% of the burghers and aristocrats voting for him at The Hague. The Republicans, less bitter to have been beaten under the circumstances had admitted in private that as they were ostensibly at war, the Orange party was a better fit for the country.

A goodly portion of the debate focused around forcing the Spanish into making concessions with the Dutch, or conquering Spain and their colonies. Many agreed in any event, they would need to fight the Spanish.

Now with promises made to the voting elite consuming his attention, William turned to his cousin Ouwerkerk to fight the Spanish and French. Appointed to insure the army was in all readiness for the coming days, Ouwerkerk would have to work fast to guarantee the safety of Amsterdam, and the subjugation of the French.

The returning Orange party gets straight to dealing with matters of war, while many patriotic Dutch wear orange pins the next day.

By now it was clear that the Dutch army based around cavalry, their artillery was immobile and their ancient pike and shot formations was outdated. The newly invented socket bayonet, which did not foul the musket when used, allowed each individual infantryman both a gun and a spear, rendering the days of missile troops being rode over roughshod by massed cavalry charges obsolete, and thus ended the musket’s dependence on the pike to protect it. Despite this, the Dutch continued to use pikes and dense formations of muskets, far more narrow and deep than necessary.

An old pike and shot formation featuring a dense, well protected square known as a "Tercio"

Oewerkerk poring over stolen French military manuals and dissertations had seen what the French they were arrayed against had attempted to accomplish. They desired a wider formation with less depth where the entire line presented bayonets to prevent cavalry, and muskets to provide the majority of firepower. Lighter weight, mobile artillery would be used to fire into the enemy, even if initially out of place, and would allow a besieging force speed and mobility. Cavalry, rather than a deciding arm would be used to flank or rout enemy formations, as the musket was no longer vulnerable to the lance and saber. They would not turn to the extremely thin lines that would be adopted by the late 1700s, or the 1800s, but were certainly moving away from the concept of depth as defense, and instead focused on breadth of the firing line to overwhelm enemy formations.

Later eras of soldiers fought in very thin lines. These are Scottish soldiers of the 1800s fighting in a thin red line. Dense formations couldn't provide the same coverage of firepower, and depth wasn't needed to repel cavalry.

The only problem was the extremely fragile nature of the Dutch forces which relied heavily on poorly trained conscripts. If forced into a situation where they exchanged volleys against their more professional adversaries, the Dutch conscripts would inevitably falter. If the Dutch wished to adopt this method of fighting, they would need to draw up a more professional, more expensive army. Ouwerkerk for now insisted the current method of fighting would prevail against the French and Spanish, and pointed to his victories against the regular army at Paris as proof, even though the Paris Garrison had only a fraction of their number as professional soldiers as compared to militia.

Conscripted troops, who lack the professionalism, skill and training as compared to proper line infantry.

He would be put to task shortly thereafter, with the French countryside simmering with patriotic and righteous anger. They garrison of France managed to keep the populace in check only 15 months before the French rose up in what became known as the mustard rebellion.

Dijon, France was the rallying place for the French rebellion.

It had likely started the instant the Dutch set foot in Paris. Dark, yet accurate rumours and speculation spread through the countryside that the Dutch were not mightier than the French. That they had only won through subterfuge and trickery. Had the full might of the French army united in front of Paris, if their armies were not split against the Dutch and the Germans from Westphalia, if the French fleet had kept together in the channel, if the Spanish had blocked or immediately moved to counter the Dutch. A million “ifs” had flown across the country, bringing it to the brink of rebellion.

The French simmering with discontent.

A small French army snuck into France assisted by the locals. Though detected by Gansevoort, who was living a semi peaceful life in Nancy, the Dutch army was far too busy suppressing the locals to react. Using the recently demolished catholic cathedral in Dijon as a symbol of Protestant, republican oppression, the tiny French army around Dijon managed to incite and arm a thousand Frenchmen, many formed of town watches and militia, into a ramshackle army. Hundreds of them had worked with the mustard the region was famous for, and were enlisted with their hands and clothes dusted yellow, hence, the Mustard Rebellion. Their fears were even more greatly realized when Dutch architects had moved in to produce a protestant school.

The French were rallied mostly around the demolition of the catholic church of Dijon, many of the French who joined the rebellion were from the countryside of Dijon.

The French regulars who had slipped into the French countryside were caught North of the Seine past Dijon, had wished to regroup with the main army at Nancy in conjunction with a distraction to be provided by the rebel army. The French facing uncertainty in their chain of command after the death of their general Claude de Vilars, likely assassinated by Ganesvoort however, were slow to coordinate. The small army was caught fighting a desperate rear action defense as the Dutch militia traveled around the eastern tip of the Seine catching them from behind. With the Dutch on their lines of communication, and the only thing standing between the Dutch army and the rebels, the French regulars prepared for a valiant rearguard action, hoping to repel the much larger Dutch army, and then regroup with the rebel forces.

French soldiers try to fight a rear guard action as the rebel army forms up.

Oewerkerk, still leading the Amsterdam Militia (the regular army still being formed around Flanders), had wished to see the difference in capabilities between the French new model army and his largely conscripted force, but would unfortunately be forced into waiting, as the main French army remained in Strasbourg to keep the Westphalians in check. He did manage to test his forces against the small army sent to incite outrage in the French countryside at the battle of Dijon, but as this army numbered less than 500, or a quarter his own forces, the test between them on an individual basis was as inconclusive as the final result of the battle was conclusive.

The Dutch conscripts easily swarmed the tiny French force.

Moving his infantry in thick ranks, with pikes ready to move against the flanks and artillery focused down the center, Ouwerkerk was in a commanding position against the tiny French army. Their own cannon was unable to fire into the advancing Dutch, and no matter how they manoeuvred, it was clear that the French would be encircled. They stretched as wide as they could to avoid an encirclement and fought with bravery and distinction, but collapsed once they had been disrupted by cavalry and pikes while simultaneously assailed and shot from all other sides. Overrun within moments, the French had failed to buy the rebel army the time it needed to capture Paris.

Ramming straight through the French army, Ouwerkerk caught up to the rebels shortly afterwards.

Though it had seemed that his own men were doing poorly when held against the individual troops, when the sheer weight of bullets had come crashing into the French lines, and from both of their overrun flanks, whether or not the troops in front of them were inferior or superior was irrelevant. Pursuing their remnants to the newly raised rebel force, the rebels were inferior in both quantity and quality. Shattered at the battle of Troyes in a straight duel between lines, the rebel forces were pushed back to Amiens. Still out of reach of the Dutch army, they hoped to evade Oewerkerk long enough to retake Paris and rally the men of France to return her to her rightful rule.

Ouwerkerk's tired army still pushes back the French rebels North along the Avre.

It was not to be however. Their few remaining men are quickly defeated by a small patrol of the regular army headed by Christiaan van Waldeck who marched south towards Paris from Brussels. He had responded to the rebels, cutting them off as they travelled North West along the north bank of the Avre near Amiens. The well disciplined line infantry received only a single casualty, as their mere presence was enough to force the exhausted French militia into surrender. Allegedly, the soldier was killed by a vengeful countryman after he had seduced his wife. Though likely only a rumour, that countryman would be forced to enlist in the Dutch army as recompense, where he would fight in Britain with great distinction. That this man’s name is unknown, or comes in many variations depending on the story teller seems to add to the proof that this event never occurred.

The Dutch army moving back and forth through Lillet were in high spirits, and their activities around the city may have inspired the story of the French conscript.

The Mustard Rebellion ended in May of 1704, with considerable loss of French lives. The brutality of the justice minister’s policies had insured the French populace was for now, completely submissive to the will of their conquerors. That the Dutch had set to appease them with temporary tax breaks to “facilitate and encourage the growth of domestic business in France” had certainly won them tentative support, or at least quelled the outward rebelliousness of the countryside.

By 1705, the Dutch garrison in Paris had expanded to include thousands of soldiers. Constant patrols numbering as many as 50 disciplined men would walk down the street to instill public order. The French were still on a tax holiday, and it could clearly be seen that the heat of their discontent was dying down. Similarly, the remaining French in Alsace Lorraine had agreed to peace terms set out by the Dutch, enforcing a very lucrative trade agreement in favour of the Dutch, as well as perpetually securing the territory of France and the colonies taken by the Dutch. Leaderless, nearly bankrupt, and at war on two fronts, the tiny nation could not hope to withstand their enemies now that their rebellion had failed.

By winter, 1705 the Dutch had largely quelled French rebellious feelings.

Incidentally, due to a small muddle caused by Dutch alliances and agreements, they had been forced to declare war on Sweden late in 1705, but were able to negotiate peace terms along with a trade agreement by December of that same year.

Now at war only with Spain, the Dutch were faced with a decade of prosperity, growth and scientific achievement. However, they were still indeed fighting the Spanish. This war manifested itself around Gibraltar when the Dutch Navy, which had been sent to blockade Spanish trade routes, encountered a series of heavily armed Galleons. A galleon was a 60 gun monstrosity, the likes of which would not be matched until the British invented the third rate ship of the line with 72 guns. The 60 gun, though slow and cumbersome was more than a match for the Dutch fifth rate frigates. The Dutch however, greatly outnumbered the Spanish galleons, giving them ample opportunity to easily defeat the Spanish Armada.

A massive 60 gun galleon. Despite the armament, the galleon was in a sense a trade vessel.

Drawing up into a typical line of battle, the larger Dutch fleet managed to trade blows with the Spanish ships without taking much more damage, but their superior manoeuvrability let them turn much more rapidly, raking the galleons from the back. Cannonballs crashed through gun decks, travelling down their length killing dozens of men and upturning many cannons. Outnumbered, it was difficult for the Spanish to prevent at least a few of the Dutch ships from coming about their aft and raking them with fire. It did not take long for the Spanish to capitulate.

The Dutch surround and overwhelm the larger Spanish ships with their superior numbers.

Now clear of the Spanish, the Dutch could turn more of their attention to growth at home. The Pyrenees Mountains separated the Dutch land armies from the Spanish and vice versa giving either side plenty of time to block the other, and the Dutch were safe at sea, having destroyed the weak Spanish armada at Gibraltar. This period of growth, though it would be interrupted by war by 1720, was the start of the Dutch industrial revolution.

A cotton mill of the industrial revolution.

This has been the third look into the second 80 years war, presented by David Stephenson. We will be presenting part 16 of the docudrama “Istanbul: The Gem of the Middle East”. In half an hour, we will be presenting world news. If you want news of the current war in the Middle East please channel in to BBC radio 1. David Stephenson will be presenting more on the 80 years war in 3 days.