Redeloos, radeloos, reddeloos…
In the Disaster Year of 1672, the Dutch Republic was attacked from three sides: by the French King Louis XIV (the Sun King), by the English fleet, and by two German monarchs, the bishops of Münster and Cologne. The Netherlands lost more and more ground at sea and on land. The population started panicking, a stream of refugees arose and the De Witt brothers were murdered. “Het volk was redeloos, de regering radeloos en het land leek reddeloos…” (The people were irrational, the government distraught and the country beyond salvation.)
However, in a year’s time, the odds turned. In order to cut off the enemy, the young stadtholder Prince William III had the dikes pierced: the Old Dutch Waterline was created. This water barrier connected the Dutch fortified cities – from Muiden and Naarden on the Zuiderzee to Gorinchem and Woudrichem near the Biesbosch – and protected the heart of the Republic: the region of Holland.
The French were surprised: the water turned out to be to deep for their horses and carts, yet too shallow for their ships. This wall made of water halted the 100,000-strong French army, and the Dutch Republic was saved…
Barriers of water
In the northern parts of the country, water was also used to protect our lands. The valleys in Drenthe and the peat areas around fortified Groningen were inundated. The troops of the Bishops of Münster and Cologne got stuck in the mud. Groningen was relieved, by which Friesland was spared from hostile occupation as well. But without the battles at sea, the months of war in 1672 and 1673 could have still ended in drama. The fleet, led by Michiel de Ruyter, covered the fragile defence of the coastline of Zeeland, Holland and the Northern approaches. De Ruyter protected the coasts of the Republic and overcame the English war fleet in decisive naval battles, such as Solebay (June 1672) and Kijkduin (August 1673).
In 1672, the Republic was strongly divided: State-minded opposed Prince-minded, Catholics opposed Protestants, and even the different regions were divided amongst themselves. Cooperation, however, turned out to be the key to national salvation. This cooperation was desperately needed because the fight against the French would last another six years: until the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678-1679.
Internationally, cooperation was also needed. Stadtholder William III joined dozens of countries in a large European coalition against the expansionist desire of the French Sun King. Important in this was also the freedom of religion and thought: unique in seventeenth-century Europe. Under William III’s rule, parliamentary democracy and liberty of speech in England would also be strengthened during the “Glorious Revolution”.
Why commemorate the Disaster Year?
The Disaster Year was a watershed in Dutch history, and it holds important lessons for all generations. What national freedom has cost and brought us, freedom that was fought for with water, and on water.
The importance of cooperation, national as well as international. Freedom of thought, political as well as religious. The platform provides a means of communicating these values of freedom and cooperation through the lessons that can be learned from the Rampjaar. All of this will be presented in a way that is accessible to the general public. Keywords of this process are targeted information exchange, media attention and clear public communication.