Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Review: Wisselend lot in een woelige tijd; van Hogendorp, Krayenhoff, Chasse en Kanssens, generaals in Bataafs-Franse dienst

Wisselend lot in een woelige tijd; van Hogendorp, Krayenhoff, Chasse en Kanssens, generaals in Bataafs-Franse dienst
Wisselend lot in een woelige tijd; van Hogendorp, Krayenhoff, Chasse en Kanssens, generaals in Bataafs-Franse dienst by Leo Turksma

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Highly readable multibiography of Dutch soldier-statesmen in the Batavian and French era, yet only based on secondary sources. Turksma describes Dirk van Hogendorp, Krayenhoff, Chassé, Janssens, Daendels and Ver Huell in short biographical sketches and ties them together at the end of the book. Which is what provides the added value of this book.

Not much time for family life and culture. Only in the case of Krayenhoff is there room for other than military and political activities. This shows that only Krayenhoff is able to combine them with scientific endeavours, but also that military and political rolls are tightly intertwined in this period.

The men navigate the revolutions of the period between 1780 and 1815 with more or less success. From the failed revolution of the Patriots in 1787, to the French invasion and establishment of the Batavian Republic in 1795, the Kingdom of Holland in 1806, the annexation by the French Empire in 1810 and finally the return of the house of Orange and the foundation of the United Kingdom in 1813-15.

They all face tough choices between political principles, personal reputation and practical necessities. Most don’t have independent means to maintain their status and are therefor dependent on employment by the state. Considerations of personal reputation are also important to officers: Krayenhoff cannot accept Russian offers in 1811 and 1812 because Napoleon will not release him of his oath.

Most of these six only make the transition to the new Orange regime only in 1814 or even 1815. Only Krayenhoff makes the move in 1813 without waiting for permission. Janssens awaits Napoleon’s abdication and then also manages to bring Chassé, an old Patriot, into a good position. Even Daendels, also not a friend of the house of Orange, eventually manages to obtain a lowly post. But Ver Huell fails to make the transition as his personal relationship with new king Willem is bad and because he is replaceable. Van Hogendorp is hindered by the estrangement of his brother and Willem and has to look outside Europe for better perspectives.

Turksma emphasises that the men don´t fit with the Second World War distinctions of right and wrong of collaboration. In most cases the loyalty of these men lay with their homeland and career decisions slowly drew them closer into the French orbit. You also need to consider that the patriots and the Batavian regime had more than sufficient support among the population to fend of challenges of the Orange party in 1799. Even King Louis Napoleon tried as much as possible to retain Dutch independence. After the annexation by France, most of these men kept their distance from Napoleon.

Collaboration was therefor, especially before 1810, not a matter of treason. Even prince Willem (the later king Willem I) at times sought Napoleon’s favour, even to the point of begging. This meant that at his return he wasn’t able to take the moral high ground, which provided opportunities for the Dutch elite under Batavian and French rule to continue their carreers.

The question of loyalty to the new regime is therefor a complex one. Not everybody who joined the Orange regime did this on grounds of principle, but they were often as closely tied to its destiny by practical necessity and honour as the convinced Orangists. And there may not have been too many of the latter in 1815 anyway.

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