Anonymous: Cartoon on the Flight of William V (c. 1795); Collection Atlas van Stolk.

State art is propaganda. Important artists glorified ruling powers, while popular opinion hardly survived until freed by printing. After the French Revolution (1789) let crowned heads roll, republican ideals flooded Europe. The Netherlands were already a Republic since 1581, but dealt with political and military influence from the ‘stadtholder’ or governor, an elected post exclusively held by the ever monarchy-eager House of Orange. French-fuelled unrest between Prussian and British-backed Orangists and enlightened ‘Patriot’ opposition finally caused the infamous flight of last stadtholder William V (1748-1806) to England.
This anonymous 1795 cartoon puts a Patriot spin on the event. It mocks William, sadly waving goodbye from a fishing-boat. Meanwhile, lightning drives Prussian eagles from the skies, an orange-tree is uprooted and an English bulldog is on the run. A broken yoke and a torn paper saying ‘stadtholdership’ lie in the foreground, flanked by a ‘now safe’ Patriot ‘keeshond’ dog. The seated Dutch Virgin thanks a ‘brave Frenchman’ for restoring her ‘deprived human rights’. Their hands meet holding a liberty tree, while another Frenchman promises safety under his banner. The woman on the right holds a plummet and a shield, symbolizing equality and fraternity.
French fraternity forced the Netherlands into a client state, first as ‘Batavian Republic’, then as ‘Kingdom Holland’ under Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Louis, before ultimately becoming a French province. Ironically, Louis’ kingship prepared the Dutch for monarchy, for after Napoleon’s defeat the allied victors restored conservative regimes through Europe. William V’s son became the first Orange King William I, remembered in history for losing half his kingdom to Belgian insurgents.
Crown prince William II was wounded fighting at Waterloo, a minor feat maximally exploited in Orangist propaganda painting. Today, royal weaponry is limited to scissors for cutting ribbons. But now ratings-driven media are king and whip their loyal subjects into flag-waving frenzy, peaking during next week’s inauguration of William’s great-great-great-great grandson as the Netherlands’ next monarch. Modern patriots seeking freedom from this tyrannical ‘display of infantile public coquetry’, as one critical columnist put it, had better go biking in the countryside.
(text: Jos Hanou)