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In 1795 the French Northern Army crosses the Waal and occupies the Dutch Republic, the Stadtholder and his family are forced to flee to England. This revolution, the Batavian Revolution, was made possible with the help of the patriots who fled in 1787 to France and returned en masse with the French army. In these years the patriots were exiled in France but there was much contact between them and revolutionaries in the Republic. On the 19th of January 1795 the Republic was officially renamed as the Batavian Republic. This meant that the officials of the Stadtholder were replaced by revolutionaries. In 1798 Pieter Vreede en Wijdo Fijnje committed a coup d’état and installed a more radical administration: the Staatsbewind. During this administration the second constitution was designed and adopted.

During this turbulent period not only the constitution was revised but the penal code, the army and the navy were also changed. In 1795 the Estates General decreed a new Artikelbrief, which will from now on be referred to as ‘Articles of War’,  concerning warfare at sea and order and discipline on board, this version replaced the older one from 1702. A dominant opinion is that the punishments from the Articles of War from 1795 included less corporal punishments than the older version. An argument for this is that during the Batavian Revolution, which came forth from the French Revolution, equality and humanity were highly valued. But is this really the case?

In this study I want to determine if the aforementioned argument is correct. So the question I pose is ‘How did the naval punishments on board change during the Batavian Revolution compared with the rule of the Stadholder’. The two versions of the Articles of War will be compared among themselves as well as with the English Articles of War. I will also touch upon the possible French influences on the Articles of War of 1795. The Articles of War will be compared with  actual sentences and determined how much influence the prescriptive sources had on the descriptive sources. The time span which will be used is from 1762 until 1799, this in order to ensure that the changes reached the ships that were stationed in the colonies. I shall argue that the changes which were made in the later version were not that progressive as the writers of the Articles of War and most people tend to think.

Before the main question can be answered a comparison between the Articles of War must be made. The Articles of War are prescriptive sources that had to be read aloud to the crew before a ship set sail. The crew also had to take a pledge that they would not break the rules and if they did, they were to be punished accordingly to the punishment prescribed in the Articles.  There were of course crimes that were too severe and had to be dealt with in a court-material, or crimes that were not clearly distinguished in the Articles and they too were dealt with in the previous manner.

In order to gain an insight of what had changed in the two versions of the Dutch Articles of War, there must first be a brief summary of what was stated in each version. The earliest version used in this paper is the one written in 1702. The composing of these Articles was done in April 1702, a month after the death of Stadtholder-King William III, who died without an heir. The post of stadtholder meanwhile had become hereditary but since there was no direct heir the Second Stadtholderless period began. This explains why the Articles of 1702 were commissioned by and dedicated to the Estates General. The pledge the crew had to make is also dedicated to the Estates General but also to the Admiralties and officers under whom the sailors and marines served. [1]

The Articles consist of sixty three  articles which can be roughly divided into sections concerned with a specific topic. Although there is a certain system, sometimes articles which do not belong in a category are nonetheless placed there. This ensures a quite confusing set of rules and the reason why some are placed in different categories is not to be discovered. The first category is concerned with three articles about religious matters and more specific about respect for God and not disturbing the service in any way.[2] After that there is a section that deals with taking orders from and not assaulting the officers and the emphasis is laid on the provost and the captain.[3] Another part concerns the prohibition of registering on more than one ship and thus receiving more money.[4] A quite large part is dedicated to damage, the refusing of carpenters or other craftsmen to repair the damage, and to staff trying to sell the ship’s stock. [5]  At first sight these Articles of War are not so special or interesting, however when you compare them to the later version of 1795 there are some distinct discrepancies, which will be discussed in the forthcoming article of this series.

– What is your opinion on the question posed above, did the French Revolution have an influence on the devising of the Articles of War of 1795?

[1] Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie, collectie De Booy 18 archiefnummer 79, pagina 5 en 12.

[2] Ibidem, 1.

[3] Ibidem, 2.

[4] Ibidem, 2-3.

[5] Ibidem, 3-4.