Book Review of An English Diplomat in the Low Countries: Sir William Temple and John de Witt, 1665-1672

K.H.D. Haley. An English Diplomat in the Low Countries: Sir William Temple and John de Witt, 1665-1672. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986. ISBN 978-0-198-22917-9. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xiii, 334.

England and the Dutch Republic fought three naval wars in the seventeenth century.  The English Republic (1649-1660) achieved a victory in the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654).  Then, the United Provinces humiliated and defeated England during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667).  The two powers ended their conflict, and created an alliance (the Triple Alliance of 1668) to oppose French aggression in the War of Devolution (1667-1668).

In An English Diplomat in the Low Countries, the late Professor K.H.D. (Kenneth) Haley of Sheffield University in England investigates the making of the Triple Alliance of 1668.  Haley is known for his previous works including William of Orange and the English Opposition, 1672-1674 (1953), Charles II (1966),  The First Earl of Shaftsbury (1968), The Dutch in the Seventeenth Century (1972), Politics in the Reign of Charles II (1985), and The British and the Dutch: Political and Cultural Relations Through the Ages (1988).

Haley focuses his study on the diplomatic activity of the English diplomat Sir William Temple.  The author argues that Temple and John de Witt, the Grand Pensionary of Holland (1653-1672), were the main proponents of the Triple Alliance.  The combination of England, the United Provinces, and Sweden influenced Louis XIV of France (ruled 1643-1715) to end the highly successful War of Devolution in the Spanish Netherlands and accept the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668).

The author begins by relating Temple’s diplomatic missions leading up to the Anglo-Dutch alliance.  He notes the diplomat’s knowledge of foreign languages.  Temple served in the Bishopric of Münster and the Spanish Netherlands (Brussels) during the Second Anglo-Dutch War.  His aim was to acquire an Anglo-Spanish pact against the Franco-Dutch alliance (created in 1662).  Temple failed in this aim, but he developed a working relationship with Francisco de Moura, Marquis of Castelo Rodrigo, the Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands (1664-1668).  While in Brussels, Temple recognized Louis XIV’s ambitions in the Spanish Netherlands as a threat to English interests and European peace.  With the outbreak of the War of Devolution in 1667, Temple strongly suggested that England support the Spanish Netherlands against Louis XIV, but Charles II of England (ruled 1660-1685) preferred to nurture closer relations with the Sun King.

Temple acquired support for his anti-French stance from John de Witt.  The Dutch, still at war with England, realized the growing French threat to the United Provinces as Louis XIV continued to conquer the Spanish Netherlands.  Castelo Rodrigo lacked the military resources to oppose France, and both Temple and De Witt sought to end the Second Anglo-Dutch War and form an alliance to block French aggression.  With the English naval disaster at the Medway, Charles II agreed to the Peace of Breda (1667), leaving De Witt the opportunity to concentrate his efforts toward creating an alliance against Louis XIV.  Temple, however, found it difficult to gain Charles II’s acceptance of an Anglo-Dutch alliance against France.  Charles II, against his personal preference, agreed to the creation of the Triple Alliance only after much pressure from his own ministers and Parliament.  The alliance, including Sweden, acted to protect the Spanish Netherlands against further French aggression.  Haley supports the argument that the Triple Alliance forced Louis XIV to end the War of Devolution and accept the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.  The author calls the peace a triumph for the Dutch Republic, the main instigator of the anti-French coalition, but notes the importance of Temple’s part in laying the foundation of the alliance and gaining Castelo Rodrigo’s acceptance of the peace proposals.  Haley points out that the Anglo-Dutch alliance was short-lived.  Within two years Charles II had negotiated the secret Anglo-French alliance (Treaty of Dover) that attacked the Dutch Republic in 1672.  Thus, the author declares that Temple had failed as a diplomat in influencing English policy against French aggression.

Haley’s valuable study examines the complex diplomacy of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, creation of the Triple Alliance, and the origins of the Dutch War (1672-1678/79).  The work is based on archival research in England, France, The Netherlands, Spain, and Belgium.  For those interested in reading more about the Anglo-Dutch wars, see Charles Wilson, Profit and Power: A Study of England and the Dutch Wars (1957), James R. Jones, The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the Seventeenth Century (1996), Roger Hainsworth and Christine Churches, The Anglo-Dutch Wars, 1652-1674 (1998), and Gijs Rommelse, The Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667): International Raison d’État, Mercantilism and Maritime Strife (2006).  English and Dutch foreign policies are examined in Keith G. Feiling, British Foreign Policy, 1660-1672 (1930), John Miller, Charles II (1991), and Herbert H. Rowen, John de Witt, Grand Pensionary of Holland, 1625-1672 (1978).  For French policy, see Claude T. McIntosh’s unpublished doctoral dissertation “French Diplomacy during the War of Devolution, 1667-68, the Triple Alliance, 1668, and the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, 1668” (1973), Herbert H. Rowen’s The Ambassador Prepares for War: The Dutch Embassy of Arnauld de Pomponne, 1669-1671 (1957), and Paul Sonnino’s Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War (1988).

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
This entry was posted in Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th Century, Book Reviews, Dutch Foreign Policy, English Foreign Policy, Europe in the 17th Century (1598-1715), War of Devolution (1667-1668) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s