Part 30: January 31 Broadcast
You are listening to BBC radio 4. In an hour, we will be presenting a documentary short on the life of Pythagoras. 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. Im Professor David Stephenson, professor of Dutch historical studies at Cambridge. This is the thirtieth 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 episode we discussed the state of the new coalition government of the Dutch Empire.
This coalition government was at that time deeply considering their options when dealing with Great Britain. More forces were being recalled to the English channel, and a peaceful resolution to the war to the East seemed more likely with the Prussians pushing the Polish army away from Dresden. While they hadnt captured the region of Saxony, they were causing significant damage to the Polish armies and their economy.
The Prussians were threatening the Polish, forcing them to divide their attention and forcing their armies into a state of attrition. This helped the Dutch achieve a peace agreement on favourable terms.
If peace could be resolved, the Dutch needed to consider if it would last long enough for them to conquer the British isles. Britain had an estimated six to seven thousand men concentrated around their capital, as well as a tremendous push of ships being produced every year. The British had also invented the first rocket armed ship, a light weight, long ranged vessel which they hoped would end the blockade of the channel. Rockets were wildly inaccurate during the age of sail, but any that did strike had a very high chance of igniting a ship, making even a heavy first rate ship little more than a floating target, or at the very least, that was the hope at the time.
The British army had expanded greatly on Britain. While smaller than the army at the height of their territorial expansion, these armies were far more concentrated.
The Dutch were in constant negotiations with the Polish. Part of that was continuing negotiations with the Russians who were Polish allies. With the complete cessation of trade with Russia due to continual attacks against the Russian trade port in Crimea, hostilities were coming close and closer. Talks with the Polish however were starting to look brighter and brighter as time wore on, as the Polish had not expected the ferocity or efficacy of the near beaten Prussians.
Dutch withdrawal from the war had catastrophic effects on the Prussians.
Trying to gain a peace treaty with Poland could potentially have disastrous consequences between the Dutch and Prussian alliance however. Prussia was relying on the Dutch to hold the Polish armies in check in the south, and more to the point in capturing key territories on the south while they captured the north. They had hoped the Dutch expansionist past would continue into the future even as the Dutch maintained the position that their empire was expanded as far as they could sustain. Attacking Poland and conquering the remainder of central Europe would leave the Dutch dangerously exposed to Sweden, the Ottoman Turks and to Russia. If they pushed through into Poland, perhaps to Warsaw while they were still at war with Britain, the Dutch would be helplessly stretched.
In 1750, the Dutch were still the most powerful Empire in the world. Unmatched in scientific progress, military strength, economy and trade, the Dutch found that even those strengths could have limitations. Unwilling or unable to commit fully to either East or West, the already indecisive Dutch government, split between many dissenting views moved their forces piecemeal. The armies in place in the East would remain to fend off the Polish armies, the Dutch guard would remain in Amsterdam until the beaches could be cleared, guaranteeing the safety of the Netherlands, and the armies from Corsica and America would assault Britain directly. Numbering only four thousand men, the assault was likely a folly. They had hoped these armies would open a hole for the elite guard from Amsterdam to directly assault London, which would involve a secondary wave of troops numbering two thousand.
The Holland guard. Distinct from the Blue guard, these men were a new regiment formed for the invasion of Britain.
The error in this strategy was in assuming the British would be pushed back by the Dutch assaults. While they could be battered in a fight, the Dutch troops making the crossing would not be capable of surviving the inevitable counter attack from the highly concentrated British forces. What the Dutch were hoping for was a repeat of the highly successful Mysore campaign, which would involve Dutch forces landing, taking a more numerous yet inferior force in battle, then fortifying their position over time. The difference this time, was the relative superiority of the British infantry. While the Dutch had overtaken the weak forces at Mysore before turning to fight the much more powerful Maratha once they had replenished their numbers and reinforced their position, in England, the Dutch would be against the superior force from the start.
Coastal cliffs of England. The rugged coastline made naval invasions difficult, with very few possible landing sites.
The planned attack was hotly debated by the Dutch at the time, the members of the Republican party pushing for a swift resolution of the war. The Dutch V.O.C. ministers however, worked towards dramatically increasing trade and factory output from their overseas investments. Dutch tax money being poured away from Amsterdam left the Republicans, who spent the remainder on expanding the army and the majority on paying the ever increasing upkeep costs on the other hand were completely neglecting the financial situation at home. While the businessmen of Amsterdam, Cologne, Spain and Paris were all entrenched enough to remain without continued government support, smaller businesses continued to fall behind.
Failed businesses often pushed the workers and sometimes even the business owners into destitution, which was on the rise as factories had to start turning down workers that were flooding into the cities.
This was however, the first indication of the Dutch finally invading Britain. The lead up to the actual assault would take years. The Republicans first needed to secure a temporary peace with the Polish who were busy destroying Dutch farms where they could, causing tremendous damage to the people of Vienna. The respective armies were keeping somewhat clear of one another, and the Polish army that was rampaging across Dutch territory actually fled onto land controlled by the Hungarians, who were willing to sell them military access. With the Polish raiding force behind the protective auspice of the Hungarians, the Dutch could do nothing to counter attack.
While Hungary, an emergent nation which was formerly of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had gained independence, but by 1750 were tremendously reliant on the Polish to maintain their freedom, and so granted several concessions in exchange for protection from Poland.
Reflecting back for a brief moment, the Dutch had just entered the thirtieth year of the war. No one could have predicted the extent of the war back when it had started in 1720. From a fairly minor invasion of the small German state of Wurttemberg, coterminous with the invasion of India, the Dutch had come to conquer much of the former British Empire, taking their colonies in the Americas. At that time, they scarcely held any land abroad. Conquering India and much of Germany, then much of North America, the Dutch had an Empire spanning much of the known world. None could have expected that the war with Wurttemberg would have sent the Dutch on such a terrifying rampage, nor that their economy could manage to sustain such a tremendous army.
During the early years, the Dutch needed daring, panache, tactics and strategy to win. That spirit had long since been lost as the Dutch grew into the globe spanning Empire which could out muscle anything they came across.
Since the 1720 election, the Dutch had undergone eight more elections, with four changes of government. After the Orange party had failed to get re-elected in 1724, the Republican party has managed to secure thirty years in office. Only now was the Orange party once again more popular. The vote split between the V.O.C. and the Republicans, the new coalition government primarily headed by the republicans only barely managed to keep the Orange party out.
Economically, the Dutch had moved to become the most rapidly industrialized nation in the world. Steam powered factories dotted their empire, thousands flocked to the cities to work in the sweltering, coal dust filled factories. Though the number of nations that were actively trading with the Dutch had been on a steady decline over the past decades, the volume of trade, and the profits from it had been improving every year for the past two decades. With more, larger ports across the world, and with far more products from their burgeoning industry to export, the Dutch trade fleets brought in tremendous boosts of income.
By the mid 1700s, factories had become far larger and more productive than they had in prior years. Competition drove down prices, but at the same time, the intense labour excess also caused terrible working conditions simultaneously leading to economic theories of socialism and capitalism. Two concepts that would become of tremendous importance by the 1900s.
On the army front, all of their famed generals, both those from before the war, and during the war had died leaving a legacy of victory and courage that new generals could not match. Only Vrooman was still alive, the youngest of the generals from 1720, active in the American theater. From the heroic militia of the early 1700s to a powerful guard and line infantry army armed with the best in Europe the way the Dutch fought had changed dramatically. Back in 1720 when the war started, the Dutch had to rely on courage, bold attacks and brilliant tactics to win the day. By 1753, the Dutch borders had grown so far that they could no longer risk their armies in such attacks. Instead, their powerful armies walked over the weak, keeping away from any situation where they could find themselves outnumbered or outmanoeuvred.
It seemed an age ago that the Dutch required the effort to win the battles which were now a regular occurence to them.
Without a strong general, a divided government, and a limit on what armies could be raised and maintained, the Dutch ministers were all acting almost as individuals, pooling what resources they could to fund what was within their realm of interest. Vrooman, the most experienced general remaining had become accustomed to the quaint politics of the American theatre. Politically outmanoeuvred in Europe, and considered a threat by the Republican party for his loyalty to the Orange party, he could do little to dissuade the Dutch ministers from making military errors.
After being recalled to Amsterdam, the aged Karel Vrooman retired, moving to Florida with his family. He managed to become the governor of Florida for the remainder of his days, but he would not longer put his mind to military matters. This left the European theater without generals, and so a new one would be elected. Debate on potential candidates, absolutely none of whom had the experience needed for an invasion of Britain, would last for considerably more time.
St. Augustine was still crowded and urban enough for the wealthy Vrooman to live a life of relative luxury, but by comparison to Europe, the city was a fairly simple place.
Tensions had come and were once again in a state of armed preparation in the East. Peace had come and gone with the Polish, who temporarily occupied Berlin, free to invade the Prussians without the fear of a Dutch counter attack. Genoa, the Italian States led by Rome and Venice had all declared war on the Dutch. While the Dutch armies returning from abroad had managed a decisive series of victories over the Italian forces, enforcing peace agreements while gaining protectorates from both the Genoese and Venetians, the Italian states had maintained their independence. In 1753, they would declare war once more.
When the war with the United Provinces ended, the Polish were free to move their armies North, the Dutch free to move their armies South.
This time, the Italian states had multiple armies capable of opposing the Dutch. The large Dutch army in Venice was the only force available to directly oppose them, but the ancient militia had been left in Lombardy as well, which could at the very least put up a show of strength. Between the two forces, the Dutch once again managed to make their move directly onto Rome. Departing from sea, the force from Corsica also moved against Rome, while the force in Munich split a detachment to defend Milan from potential Genoese treachery.
The Dutch assault the Italians, who had left defenders to try and slow the Dutch attack.
The Milan army managed to break past the Italian defenders and make their way to Rome. Met by the Corsican garrison, they managed to keep enough troops to prevent an Italian breakthrough, and as well enough to prevent a relief attempt by their armies scattered about.
The Dutch once again make their way to Rome.
Rather than immediately attempting a breakthrough with all their men, the Italians attempted to move their northernmost army towards Venice, attempting to draw away Dutch forces away from the Vatican to try to force the Dutch into lifting the siege. The Dutch militia in Venice, long passed by moved to engage. Their army consisting of masses of militia, old, immobile cannons, and even the old Amsterdam Pike regiment, which was their oldest remaining regiment were present. While the Italian force was modern and fairly powerful, including many grenadiers and modern artillery pieces, the Dutch had such an advantage in numbers that even the old militia were overwhelming.
The massive Dutch militia force ready to overwhelm a much smaller Italian force.
In Rome when their counter invasion failed the Italians attempted a half hearted sally when another army, this one to the west of the Tiber river, attempted to assist the defending force. The reinforcing Italian army from the Roman garrison was caught and intercepted by the Corsican force which had attempted to get around the flank of the Roman West force, caused the Italian reinforcements to withdraw back into Rome. Broken from the field of battle before contributing much, they were spared in the fight leaving Rome with time and men to withstand the Dutch siege. On the other hand, the army that was meant to relieve them was virtually destroyed.
The Dutch reinforcements intercept the sallying Italian defenders as they went into the field to attack the main Dutch force which was engaged against the relief force of the Italians. After a bloody melee, the Italians were forced back into the fortifications around Rome without many losses.
This kept the Dutch in their former state, where the world at large watched to see if they were still as ruthless and domineering as they once were. The Dutch attempted to force the Italian States into signing over some of their freedom and income to the Dutch as a protectorate, as it would guarantee some degree of cooperation, but the Italian states could not be enticed. Not while their garrison still held out. If the Dutch could maintain their blockade for another year, it would likely force peace, but their infantry were dispersed uselessly along Italy. Every year that passed granted Genoa more opportunities to invade Milan, and Poland time to invade Munich.
The Dutch were against elite cuirassier cavalry, but even these heavily armed cavalry were no match for an infantry square.
While at land, the Italian forces were completely stymied by the overwhelming Dutch armies, they still had much of their fleet intact. The Dutch had left a single unsupported third rate ship of the line to police against the massive fleet of support vessels. The Braek under Captain Gottftried Crijnsen was left as the sole vessel in the Mediterranean. A third rate against the myriad brigs and sloops left and even stronger impression on the theatre, destroying ten Italian ships in a single season at the cost of approximately half her crew. If the Spartiate had done the same with courage a decade ago, the Braek managed to do so with ease. In 1754. Gottfried was promoted to Admiral for his efforts, though only in title. There was no fleet in the Mediterranean.
A third rate was near invincible against the small support vessels which the Italian states could afford at the time. It managed to repeat the victory the Spartiate had managed in the Mediterranean, but with much greater ease.
But waiting is what the Dutch opted to do. Both unable and unwilling to sack Rome and more importantly, the Vatican, the Dutch continued to appeal to the Italian diplomats. The Italians did not feel compelled to move until they had completely expended all other options.
There were many historical monuments in Rome marking each era. Few were erected in the honour of their battles against the Dutch.
The Dutch were at stasis. They spent each year quelling the Italian states who had otherwise come under their rule. They spent their armies holding away the Polish in the East. Their money was spent on industry and trade, even as their partners dwindled in number and as their armies aged in the field. At sea, they found themselves chasing off small British patrols, or massive yet completely outdated Italian brigs. For over a decade, little of worth was accomplished, distracted by the Italians for years, which were and were considered by the Dutch to be but an annoying hindrance, the Dutch wanted greatly to move their forces elsewhere.
The Dutch continued their arms race in the English channel. This included the construction of the worlds first steam powered ship. Other than a few new flag ships or experimental ships, such as their next 120 gun first rate, as compared to their 102 gun first rate however, little went into further preparation in the channel.
The breaking point that would spark the Dutch push onto Britain was close at hand. By 1754, the various political parties of the United Provinces and the Western Atlantic Federation were waffling on the invasion, but within a year, the Dutch would be compelled to invade with what forces they could.
Next we will going over the life history of Pythagoras. 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.