chapter  1
22 Pages

Sir Joseph Yorke and the Waning of the Anglo-Dutch Alliance, 1747-1788

Prussia’s Frederick the Great possessed an enviable capacity to coin a striking figure of speech. Writing in his account of the Austrian Succession War, drafted in the mid1740s and finalised three decades later, the King famously compared the eighteenthcentury Dutch Republic to a longboat attached to the stem of an English man-of-war and content to be towed along in its wake.1 The implication was clear, and spelled out in succeeding paragraphs in case any reader remained in doubt: that by the middle decades of the eighteenth century the economically declining, politically neutralist Republic had lost the capacity to conduct an independent foreign policy of the kind that it had so successfully pursued during its seventeenth-century Golden Age. Frederick’s simile was equally applicable to the contours of Anglo-Dutch diplomatic relations from the 1740s to the 1780s - the period when Sir Joseph Yorke was first minister (1751-61) and then ambassador (1761-80) at The Hague. During these decades the Republic was increasingly subordinate to its much stronger neighbour and ally across the North Sea, as the ruling House of Orange accepted political dependence in order to buttress its own shaky domestic position. By the later 1770s that subservience had become irksome to the Dutch and also impossible to sustain, and a sharp deterioration in relations took place. The outbreak of war between the two established partners in 1780-81 signalled the breakdown of one of the most enduring alliances of the eighteenth century.