Herman Willem Daendels

gigatos | December 27, 2021


Herman Willem Daendels (Hattem, 21 October 1762 – Elmina, Gold Coast, 2 May 1818) was a Dutch patriot who took matters into his own hands in 1786 when he was passed over for an appointment; he then trained as a soldier and fled to northern France when the stadholder was restored to power. After the Batavian Revolution he was a general. From 1807 to 1810 he was governor general of the Dutch East Indies.

Daendels was the son of Burchard Johan Daendels, who was magistrate in Hattem as town clerk and operator of a brickyard in the floodplain of the river IJssel. He attended the Athenaeum Illustre in Deventer. From September 1781 he studied law at the University of Harderwijk, where he received his doctorate in April 1783. A dissertation, if produced at all, has not been preserved. Until the 20th century it was not unusual to obtain a doctorate on theses. In those cases, no doctoral research had been done. Often a doctorate was conferred on the day of graduation.

Troubles in Hattem

After his studies, Daendels became a lawyer in his hometown of Hattem, a town of about 1,000 inhabitants at the time. His father died in August 1785. It would not have been unusual for his son to succeed him, but in 1786 Stadtholder William V appointed an orangist to fill the vacancy. In addition, two vacancies were not filled in order to reduce the size of the vroedschap. This decision evoked opposition from Daendels, who had been at the forefront as captain of the exercising society for some time. Daendels opposed the privilege, which gave the stadholder a great deal of influence over the composition and size of the vroedschap. He called upon his fellow citizens to complete the city council themselves. This would allow the inhabitants to reclaim an old right that had been taken away from them when the Union of Utrecht was formed (1579). Daendels was inspired by the changes in Utrecht when he set aside the city government regulations in May. On Wednesday morning, August 2, 1786, in front of the assembled exercising societies, sixteen “democratically” elected Patriots were sworn into the Utrecht vroedschap; Daendels was present.

By the end of July, two new aldermen had been appointed, including a former bodyguard of the prince. On August 8 Daendels proclaimed to defend the town militarily. The ministers of Elburg also helped to restore the bulwarks and ramparts. Daendels set up his house as an ammunition depot. On August 28, the decision was made to send troops to Hattem and Elburg. The Gelderland Stadtholder troops were moved and occupied Hattem and Elburg without much difficulty on September 5. Daendels and democratic supporters took refuge in Zwolle and plotted to recapture their city.

In January 1787 Daendels, was a member of a “national commission for the expedition of civil affairs” that was to design a defense plan for Holland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel to protect those regions. He traveled with Aleida van Vlierden to Bentheim where they were married on March 9 or August 19, 1787, according to tradition without the consent of the princely in-laws. Daendels defended Amsterdam against the Prussians in October (1787) as major of a Gelderland brigade he had established.

Refugee in Northern France

The 1787 restoration of stadholder rule meant an imminent imprisonment for Daendels. His departure meant that he avoided enforcement of the 1788 ruling by the Court of Gelderland, which stripped him of his civil rights and banished him from Gelderland “on pain of death”. Daendels, Johan Valckenaer and Adam Gerard Mappa, on the initiative of Wybo Fijnje, rented an old Jesuit monastery, the Abbey of Waten, and restored the rooms, grew vegetables, interspersed with discussions and playing billiards. After Mappa emigrated to America and Daendels could no longer pay the rent and left for Dunkirk, tensions arose in the commune. Daendels traded with a former student friend in wood, cheese and tobacco. He soon got into an argument with Court Lambertus van Beyma who took him to court. Daendels had been sentenced to death in absentia in the Republic and by now feared assassination and his home looted. In 1792 he took a seat on the Batavian Committee, which was preparing an upheaval in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, and saw for himself an advisory role in this operation. Daendels impressed the French, as he had an extensive network of informants and could provide the French generals with troop movements of the Austrians during the First Coalition War. At the end of May, he left for Paris. Secretly, 6,000 rifles were purchased in England for the yet-to-be-established Batavian Legion. On August 1, 1792, he and his trading companion were appointed officers and started a recruiting office in Ostend. Gerrit Paape served as his secretary. In February 1793, France declared war on the stadholder, and Daendels was part of the army under Dumouriez that invaded Limburg and North Brabant two weeks later. The troops were recalled and defeated at the Battle of Neerwinden (1793). Daendels delivered battle at Wervik, Flanders, against the Dutch army on 1213 September 1793. He was appointed commander of the fortress of Menin. In the battle along the border posts, which lasted a year, he learned the art of war. As a brigadier general (since April 1794) in Pichegru”s army, he returned to the Netherlands. On September 21, 1794, he arrived with his battalion in ”s-Hertogenbosch. The siege of the city would last three weeks. Daendel”s plans for self-authorized action, in a proclamation sent to the newspaper by Paape on 21 October, frightened the French. He tried to persuade Amsterdam to make an already revolutionary move in order to have a stronger starting position against the French. Willem Irhoven van Dam with Cornelis Krayenhoff traveled to the French headquarters in Den Bosch to meet Daendels. An attack from Crèvecoeur on the Bommelerwaard failed at first. Under increasingly threatening conditions, Guillaume Anne de Constant Rebecque and his brigade managed to hold out on the right bank of the Waal and hold off the enemy for three days, until he was sent by the Prince of Orange to Leerdam, to defend the Linge. On January 17, Daendels was at Leerdam at the head of an advance brigade.

On Sunday afternoon, January 18, 1795, Krayenhoff came by order of Daendels to tell the Amsterdam mayors that they had better resign the next day. On February 20 he was in Delft which was reluctant to establish a new city government. After a visit to Paris, Daendels entered the service of the Batavian Republic in June as lieutenant general, in the same rank as Dumonceau, which must have bothered him. He had to apologize after having acted in an ontact manner at The Hague. In July 1795 he was ordered to reorganize the army and a year later it became his job to defend the eastern border. The Kollumer riot caused great dissension in Friesland, so Daendels was called to the rescue. In the fall of 1797, the Republic was as far along as in the spring of 1795. After the loss of the Sea Battle at Camperduin by Jan Willem de Winter, he intervened. As a Unitarian, Herman Willem Daendels organized the coup d”état of January 22, 1798, by locking up the overly fanatical Federalist members of the National Assembly to end the indecision of 40,000 electors and the long debates by the regional delegates. He managed to gain the approval of Talleyrand and obtained the cooperation of the French ambassador Charles Delacroix, and Generals Dumonceau and Barthélemy Catherine Joubert. Four hours later, an Executive Government based on the French model was introduced; the departments and municipalities were given much less autonomy. At two o”clock in the afternoon, everything was over. 21 members of the Representative Body had been arrested. A total of 33 members were deposed.

In consultation with Jacobus Spoors, Gogel and Joubert, Daendels left for Paris in May. He had talks with Talleyrand and Paul Barras of the Directoire. In two weeks Daendels spent 15,000 guilders. There must have been a lot of money left in the bank. On June 12, 1798, Daendels staged a second coup against the radical Unitarians; their behavior was considered villainous. Delacroix and Van Langen were arrested, Pieter Vreede and Wijbo Fijnje escaped through a window. The hated decisions were reversed; the instigators disappeared. Delacroix was recalled. Without a shot being fired, the Moderates took power and the Batavian Revolution was over. Daendels, who was easily stirred up, was told to moderate himself.

Led by French general Guillaume Brune, he was tasked with preventing the impending Russian-English landing at Zijpe in the head of North Holland. Daendels was encamped in the northern part of North Holland, with his headquarters in Schagen, while Dumonceau had taken up positions in Friesland and Groningen in order to intercept a landing on the northern Dutch coast or an invasion from Germany. After his defeat at the Battle of Callantsoog, he ordered the garrisons of the coastal forts of Den Helder to abandon the forts. This maneuver was severely blamed on him. Due to the accusation of treason, he wrote a statement of defense and was granted a two-year leave of absence. In August 1802 he had a conversation with Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck and General Dumonceau at the Loo; not much is known about the content, but had to do with a change of government. Daendels spread rumors of a conspiracy. He resigned two days after the establishment of the State Government when he could not prove anything. Daendels” “third coup” failed due to intervention by French general Pierre François Charles Augereau, probably on Napoleon”s orders.

Daendels, who had fallen into disfavour, retreated to the Heerderdal on the North Veluwe. He received 500 morgen (at least 430 hectares) of uncultivated heathland in perpetual lease from the Batavian Republic and founded a large-scale agricultural enterprise on the estate De Dellen, west of Heerde. He engaged in the clearing of heathland into farmland, the planting of pines, the fattening of pigs, the raising of sheep. Daendels corresponded with Johan Valckenaer, also a gentleman farmer and an unemployed citizen.

In June 1806, Louis Napoleon restored him to his functions and Daendels became lieutenant general of the troops on horseback. He was dispatched to Groningen and Friesland. In October Daendels conquered East Friesland which was incorporated into the Republic. Two months later he was back from Emden. Like Dirk van Hogendorp, he was on the hunt for an honorable position in the Dutch East Indies.

Daendels as governor general of the Dutch East Indies

Then in 1807 Louis Napoleon appointed him governor general of the Dutch East Indies with the rank of marshal. After a long journey, he arrived in Batavia on January 5, 1808. His main task was to protect the colony from the English, who had taken over former trading posts in Asia since the Letters of Kew. In a short time he chased the English army from Java. Daendels built hospitals and military shelters; weapons factories in Surabaya and Semarang and a new military training school in Batavia. There he had a fort erected in the Meester Cornelis district and Fort Lodewijk in Surabaya.

Daendels not only reorganized the army; his second task was to fight corruption. He abolished the obligation to tithe and gave all religions equal rights. He tried to centralize the administration on Java and restrict the rule of the feudal rulers. Daendels traveled with 1,000 soldiers and some artillery to the craton of the Sultan of Bantam who had opposed the colonial administration. The audacious Daendels entered the large forecourt all by himself and demanded entry; a demand that was reinforced by a cannon pointed at the gate. When the gate was opened, Daendels stepped resolutely towards the old weak sultan who was waiting for the governor general on his throne. Daendels pulled the old monarch from his seat and took his own seat. “Now I am king!” he shouted.

The old VOC was a trading company, and the Dutch in the Indies therefore did not represent a sovereign power. Daendels made the Indian princes feel that he represented a king. It was over with the slavish treatment of the Javanese aristocracy; Daendels was therefore called the “Toewan Besar Goentoer,” the great “thundering” lord.

Daendels introduced a modern civil service and stripped the individual trading posts of their administrative autonomy. He organized administration and justice in a modern way and cleaned up some abuses and abuses from the time of the Company. This made him unpopular with the Old Board, who sent complaints and accusations about him to Louis Napoleon. There was also every reason for this because Daendels, contrary to his instructions, appropriated estates and the lucrative monopoly on the trade in edible swallow nests. Partly because of this opposition his attempts did not go entirely according to plan and he had to fall back on the economic model of the old Republic; the Preanger system from the beginning of the 18th century, with which the VOC had enforced the production of certain goods (e.g. coffee).

The temperamental governor general had little respect for the judicial process. He had three Europeans accused of theft hanged during their trial in 1808. The judge who protested was dismissed.

The Great Post Road on Java

Daendels is best known as the driving force behind the construction of the Great Post Road (Jalan Raya Pos) along the full length of Java. This work, the road from Carnation to Panarukan, had above all a military purpose: rapid movement of troops. In addition, it was a fast route for transporting mail and passengers by stagecoach from 1810 onwards and furthermore the road offered the local population the opportunity to transport their merchandise over long distances. A journey from Batavia to Semarang took only 3 to 4 days instead of 10 to 14. The construction cost many lives, but is also seen by contemporary Indonesian historians as a major advance. This is why Daendels was given the title: Raja (brave and wise king) by the local population. This road made it possible to reach other parts of Java in days instead of weeks. But the seeds of Daendels” eventual downfall had already been sown.

After the annexation of the Netherlands by France (1810), Emperor Napoleon called Daendels back in 1810. He was appointed commander of a division of the Napoleonic army, and participated in Napoleon”s campaign to Russia.

After the fall of Napoleon (1814), Daendels petitioned Willem I for a new position. He was appointed Governor-General of the Dutch possessions on the African Gold Coast in 1815. It was not until March 1816 that he was able to take up his post. He tried to build a road from the coast to the Ashanti kingdom, tried to reorganize the administration, and tried to make money with plantations, but all this failed.

Daendels died of malaria in 1818 and was interred in the tomb at the Dutch cemetery in Elmina, Ghana.


  1. Herman Willem Daendels
  2. Herman Willem Daendels
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