- The Anglo-Dutch Favourite: The Career of Hans Willem Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland (1649–1709), and: Redefining William III: The Impact of the King-Stadholder in International Context
These two volumes, one a monograph focused on the career of the long-time favorite of William III, the other a series of essays assessing the international impact of that King-Stadholder, may offer more to the late-Stuart historian than to the specialist of Restoration literature, but both works provide rich additions to our understanding of crucial public events of the late-seventeenth century, above all by situating them in their international contexts. Although Ashgate’s series on “Politics and Culture in North-Western Europe 1650–1720” is in its infancy, these volumes (the first of four scheduled through spring 2009) augur well for the series’ success in effectively addressing the complexities of history studied from a regional European perspective. Importantly, both books rely on sources opaque to those unable to work with Dutchlanguage materials and also on overlooked, underappreciated, and misunderstood documents. Hugh Dunthorne’s brief essay in Redefining William III on visual depictions of William, for example, makes effective use of Dutch engraved prints to explain shifts in the nature (and decline in the quality) of portraits of the King-Stadholder. Charles-Edouard Levillain’s essay, for another, reassesses opposition arguments casting William as a dictator—arguments familiar to students of the period through printed English-language propaganda that addressed the late 1690s’ standing army controversy—by using unstudied French publications, as well as neglected English manuscript sources.
The study of Bentinck (later 1st Earl of Portland) eschews biography for “a case study in Williamite policy, which…investigate[s] the role of the favourite within the [End Page 43] Anglo-Dutch union” (Anglo-Dutch Favourit 2). Onnekink’s insistence on situating Bentinck as an Anglo-Dutch favorite constitutes one of the book’s great strengths, because it forces on the reader a continuous appraisal of the politics of the day in the light of the King-Stadholder’s inevitably doubled vision, a vision that also saw all of Europe as its field. Onnekink demonstrates that Bentinck’s substantial and years-long success in his role as one who executed rather than made policy for William can only be understood by seeing him, too, as an internationalist at heart. This portrayal of Bentinck moreover accords with Onnekink’s revisionist view of William as surrounded not by Dutch nationalists but by a more far-sighted, international entourage (whether before or after becoming Britain’s king), and with the argument that in the Netherlands, and especially in Britain, Bentinck proved himself in action to be less a partisan politician than a Court man. Such was the essence of being a favorite. Insofar as we accept that William himself was always possessed of an internationalist’s vision, anyone so devoted to his patron as Bentinck was to William would understandably adopt the King-Stadholder’s broad European outlook on matters of state.
In Onnekink’s eyes, Bentinck’s experience with the English political world, both his successes and failures, illuminates the new era ushered in by the events of 1688–89. These include the (further) evolution of national politics away from conditions where political competition was articulated and policy was formulated primarily at Court, toward those where national party politics and the affairs of parliament dominated. The existence of a ‘standing’ parliament inevitably reduced the influence of even the best-placed and most trusted favorite and thereby also constrained his capacity to serve as a lightning rod to deflect overt criticism from the monarch. That Bentinck ended his tenure as favorite by retiring from public service in 1699 (rather than by being removed upon a royal order) and also retained lucrative offices, favor with the king, and arguably even power, demonstrates...