Bicentenary of the Dutch Constitution

National Archives of The Netherlands

Lodewijk Napoleon Bonaparte, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Lodewijk Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Napoleon Bonaparte

Annexation by France

On 9 July 1810, Emperor Napoleon brought an end to the Kingdom of Holland (1806-1810) when he recalled Louis, his brother – who he had installed as king of Holland in 1806 – to Paris. He felt that his brother had sided too much with the Dutch and too little with the French Empire.

Kaart van de inlijving bij Frankrijk, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
The French Empire

Holland, despite a ban imposed by Napoleon, continued to trade with Britain. The country provided hardly any revenue for the French treasury and, as an ally of France, contributed little to the war effort.

Voorkant, Napoleon Bonaparte, 1810-03-19, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Document for the annexation by France
Pagina 6 en 7, Napoleon Bonaparte, 1810-03-19, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Signature of Napoleon

As a result, on 9 July 1810, Napoleon decided to permanently annex the kingdom.

De intocht van Napoleon te Amsterdam, 9 oktober 1811, Mattheus Ignatius van Bree, 1811-10-09, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Napoleon in Amsterdam in 1811

At the time of the French annexation, key laws were introduced and institutions founded, such as the Land Registry, the registry of births, deaths and marriages, and the judicature. The Code Civil remained in force in the Netherlands long after 1813 and was to have a major influence on the Dutch Civil Code (Burgerlijk Wetboek).

Declaratie van overwinning na de Slag van Leipzig in 1813, 1813, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Battle of Leipzig

1813 proclamation

18 November 1813 marked a turning point. After the fiasco of the Russian invasion and the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig (16 -19 October 1813), it became clear that Napoleon was no longer invincible.

In October 1813, the signs of resistance increased substantially, especially after Russian (Cossack) and Prussian troops had invaded Dutch territory in pursuit of the French after their defeat at Leipzig. It sparked off a wave of unrest.

Verwoesting van het douanehuisje bij de Schreierstoren te Amsterdam, 1813, Koninklijke Steendrukkerij van C.W. Mieling, Gebroeders Kraay, 1847 1849, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Unrest in Amsterdam

Together with a number of other former regents, Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp decided to declare independence.

Gijsbert Karel graaf van Hogendorp, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Gijsbert Karel van Hogendorp
Een Nederlands Bestuur aan Nederland hergeven, 1813-11-20, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Painting: 'Een Nederlandsch Bestuur aan Nederland hergeven (20 november 1813)' from left to right: Van Hogendorp, Kemper , Van Limburg-Stirum, v.d. Duyn van Maasdam, Fannus Scholten en Changuion

They issued a proclamation declaring independence and recognising the Prince of Orange as the ‘Supreme Authority’. The proclamation signalled the start of Dutch independence.

Proclamatie van Van Hogendorp, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Proclamation by Van Hogendorp, November 17th 1813
Proclamatie 1, Koning Willem I, 1813-11-30, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Proclamation by Prince Willem Frederik
NL-HaNA_2.24.05.02_0_041-0344_1, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Arrival of Prince Willem Frederik

The Prince of Orange arrived in Scheveningen on the 30th of November 1813.

NL-HaNA_2.24.01.05_0_934-3649, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Celebration of 150 years of kingdom with Prince Willem-Alexander.
Koning Willem I, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Prince Willem Frederik 
Proclamatie van Koning Willem I in 1813, Koning Willem I, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Proclamation by Prins Willem Frederik. 
00008006009, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Prince Willem Frederik with Wilhelmina van Pruisen

The constitution of 29 March 1814

One of the first decisions taken by Prince William was to set up a constitutional committee tasked with drafting a new constitution. Presiding over the committee was Gijsbert Karel Van Hogendorp. Despite having been subject to a whole string of amendments in the intervening years, the present-day constitution can still be traced back to the original constitution of 1814.

Beëdigen van de Grondwet op 30 maart 1814, 1814-03-30, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Ceremony for the 1814 Constitution
Voorkant, 1814-03-29, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
The first constitution
Voorwoord, 1814-03-29, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
'Wij Willem, ...' Click to see the document.

Around a third of the articles in the 1814 constitution related to the king, and the whole constitution revolved around his sovereignty and supremacy. The 1814 constitution was the first of its kind in the kingdom, and its significance is primarily institutional: it provided a framework for a new, largely centrally governed unitary state.

From now on, aspects of decentralisation would also be centrally determined.

Pagina 66 en 67, 1814-03-29, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Signature by Bernhardus Buma

One of the ancestors of a Dutch a current politician, Sybrand van Haersma Buma, also signed the first Constitution: Bernhardus Buma.

Bernhardus Buma, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Bernhardus Buma

The constitution of 24 August 1815

In June 1815, a decision was made in London to join the Netherlands with the former Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). This necessitated a change in the constitution. To this end a new constitutional committee was convened with members from both sides.

NL-HaNA_4.EKR_296_27(_), From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Kingdom of The Netherlands in 1815
Pagina 1, 1815-08-24, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Constitution of 1815
Pagina 1, 1815-08-24, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Article 1

The draft 1815 constitution was submitted to a meeting of notables in the North as well as the South. Whilst in the North, approval for the new constitution was overwhelming, in the South the majority voted against it.

Ultimately, the king decided that the constitution would be adopted, because those who had failed to turn up were deemed to have voted in favour (‘silence implies consent’), and because dissenting votes which had been cast with a view to rejecting the separation of church and state, were considered not to have been cast.

The separation treaty with Belgium, 19 April 1839 (Treaty of London)

Right from the creation of the Kingdom in 1815, there are problems between King William I and the Southern Netherlands. Its inhabitants are predominantly Catholic as opposed to those of the Northern Netherlands, who are Protestant. What’s more, the north has a much larger public debt than the south. Opposition to William I continues to mount after he issues the language decree in 1823. From now on, Dutch is the only official language allowed to be used in the Flemish provinces.

In 1830, things come to a head. What starts off as riots ends in a full-blown war. The Belgians form a temporary government which declares independence on 4 October. Shortly thereafter, Belgium is recognised by the European nations. But William I refuses to acknowledge the separation, which results in the Ten Day Campaign in August 1831. Whilst initially successful, the Dutch army is forced to withdraw following French intervention. The separation of the Netherlands and Belgium is now final.

Overwinning voor Leuven, op den 12den Augustus 1831, 1813-08-12, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Ten days' campaign
Scheiding Nederland en België 1939, 1839-04-19, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
The seperation treaty of Belgium and The Netherlands

However, only in 1839 does William I reconcile himself to the situation and accept the separation treaty.

Pagina 4 en kaart van de provincie Luxemburg, 1839-04-19, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
This map shows the Belgium territory that consists of the provinces Zuid-Brabant, Luik, Namen, Henegouwen, West-Vlaanderen and Oost-Vlaanderen.
Pagina 8 en kaart van Limburg, 1839-04-19, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
This map refers to the territories mentioned in article IV. The territories on the left and right side of the river Maas belong to the King of The Netherlands.
Aantekeningen Thorbecke op de grondwet 1839, Johan Rudolph Thorbecke, 1839, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Notes by Thorbecke

The constitutional reform of 3 November 1848

At the end of the 1830s, it had become clear to Jan Rudolph Thorbecke that the political system on which the 1815 constitution was based was no longer tenable.

However, it took until 1848 – the Year of Revolution – until King William II was willing to have the constitution reformed.

Portret van mr. Johan Rudolph Thorbecke., From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Portrait of Johan Rudolph Thorbecke

Direct elections to the Dutch second chamber of parliament as well as to the provincial and municipal authorities were held. In addition, parliamentary powers regarding the monitoring and approval of budgets were enlarged. The principle of freedom of education was also introduced. Finally, prime ministerial accountability was included in the constitution.

Ontwerp Wet nr. 1, 1848-10-11, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
The constitution of 1848

This changed the basis of the political system fundamentally. In a word, 1848 was marked by the introduction of the parliamentary system. Nevertheless, this didn’t mean that the Netherlands had become a democracy all of a sudden.

The constitution of 18 May 1917

The first political parties emerged in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. Their rise occurred simultaneously with an intensification of the political struggle.

Herziening van de Grondwet 1917, 1917-05-18, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
The constitution of 1917
Troelstra spreekt demonstranten toe, Cornelis Leenheer, 1912-09-17, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Pieter Jelles Troelstra speaks during a demonstration for the enlargement of electoral suffrage in 1912.

The enlargement of electoral suffrage demanded a change in the constitution. Efforts to apply the principle of freedom of education centred primarily on the funding of special education.

Schoolklas in Amsterdam 1914, 1914, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
School class in Amsterdam, 1914

Both the issue of more widespread suffrage and that of education were solved in the constitutional reforms of 1917.

Les in tandenpoetsen, 1933, 1933, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Children learn how to brush their teeth, 1933
Vereniging voor Vrouwenkiesrecht in actie, 1914, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Women demonstrating for their right to vote in 1914.

The right to vote was extended, first to men, and from 1919 onwards – after a change in the law - to all women.

Vrouwen die strijden voor kiesrecht waaronder Wilhelmina Drucker (Dolle Mina) en Aletta Jacobs, 1913, 1913, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Women that fight for women's right to vote. Amongst them: Wilhelmina Drucker (Dolle Mina) and Aletta Jacobs, 1913.

At the same time, the system of proportional representation was also introduced.

Landbouwers aan het werk op de sawahs, 1947, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Agriculture on West-Java Indonesia, 1947

Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 29 December 1954Meer bewerkenOfKlik en typ of sleep een item uit de galerij hieronder.U kunt dit veld leeg laten.Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 29 December 1954The Netherlands had ‘overseas possessions’, but until the end of the nineteenth century this could only be derived indirectly from the text in the constitution, for example, the provisions regarding administrative responsibility for the colonies.

The Netherlands had ‘overseas possessions’, but until the end of the nineteenth century this could only be derived indirectly from the text in the constitution, for example, the provisions regarding administrative responsibility for the colonies.

Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 29 December 1954

The Netherlands had ‘overseas possessions’, but until the end of the nineteenth century this could only be derived indirectly from the text in the constitution, for example, the provisions regarding administrative responsibility for the colonies.

Indonesië (voorheen Nederlands-Indië), From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Indonesia, 1880-1910.

With the independence of Indonesia in 1949, the territorial expanse of these possessions was reduced.

Statuut voor het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden van 1954, 1954-12-15, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 29 December 1954
Statuut voor het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden van 1954, 1954-12-15, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
The seal of the document

For the remaining territory, the government sought to introduce equality across the various parts of the kingdom from the end of the 1940s onwards. This led to the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1954. This document takes precedence over the constitution and enshrines the constitutional law for all parts of the kingdom.

It also contains a description of all territories within the kingdom. The Charter defines the ‘affairs of the kingdom’, such as foreign affairs, defence, admission policy, policy on foreign nationals, human rights, legal certainty and proper governance.

Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden, ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties, 2013, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
Today's territories of the Kingdom of The Netherlands
Koning Willem-Alexander bekijkt de eerste Grondwet uit 1814, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
King Willem-Alexander looks at the Constitution of 1814 together with chairman of the National Committee for the Bicentenary of the Kingdom, Ank Bijleveld-Schouten, and director of the Dutch National Archives, Martin Berendse. 
Koning Willem-Alexander tijdens het Grondwet Festival, 29 maart 2014, From the collection of: National Archives of The Netherlands
King Willem-Alexander visits the Constitution Festival on the 29th of March 2014 to celebrate the bicentenary of the Dutch Constitution.

In cooperation with the National Archive of the Netherlands and the National Committee for the Bicentenary of the Kingdom, Google has today made the original 1814 constitution of the Netherlands available for a wider readership in the unique online exhibition 200 years of the Constitution. This year, on 29 March 2014 we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Constitution of the Netherlands. For the first time ever, all documents have been brought together in digital format and made available in an online exhibition at the Google Cultural Institute.

Credits: Story

Google
200 jaar Koninkrijk
Nationaal Archief

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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