In 1781, a new political movement of discontented burghers became increasingly vociferous in the Republic. They called themselves Patriots, to show their love of country, and aimed to restore the Republic to its former power and glory. Their concerns were greater individual freedom and the rights of man. Power, which had accrued to the stadholder and aristocracy, should lie with the burghers. The Patriots armed themselves, joined civic guard corps and societies. This brought them into conflict with supporters of the prince of Orange, the Orangists. De patriotten gingen zich bewapenen en verenigen in schutterijen en genootschappen. Hiermee kwamen zij tegenover de aanhangers van de prins te staan: de prins- of Oranjegezinden.
In the night of 25 to 26 September 1781, an anonymous pamphlet was distributed around the country. It was addressed ‘To the People of the Netherlands’ and called on burghers to demand their rightful part in the government of town and country. Later, it emerged that it had been written by a nobleman in Overijssel, Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol.
The call signalled the start of a Patriot revolution against corruption, cronyism and other abuses. One of the leaders was Cornelis (Kees) de Gijselaar of Dordrecht and this gave rise to a pejorative for the Patriots - ‘kezen’ - while they in turn proudly wore badges showing a keeshond (barge dog). Opponents chided ‘In this century of mad dogs, it’s an honour to be crazy.’
‘Prince William, it is all your fault,’ Joan Derk van de Capellen tot den Pol concluded in his pamphlet To the People of the Netherlands, summarising the Patriot criticism of William V. The stadholder was notoriously weak and indecisive; indeed he had no response to the accusation. His wife, Wilhelmina was also unpopular, although cut from a different cloth. She was a proud princess - her brother William Frederick II was king of Prussia. Yet even she could not avoid her husband and herself having to flee The Hague in September 1785, as the Patriots grew in strength. William and Wilhelmina and their children found refuge in Nijmegen in Gelderland.
The Patriots and Orangists lampooned each other in pamphlets and other publications. William and Wilhelmina were depicted with their children as wild pigs, trampling over the rights of the Dutch people. Meanwhile, the Orangists called the rebels mad dogs and madmen.
Every medium available was used in the struggle, including violence. The Patriots formed armed free corps and seized power in much of Holland, Utrecht and Overijssel. The Orangists managed to hold on to a few towns in Gelderland, with a show of force. Elsewhere in the country they fermented riots and incidents. Tension mounted and in the course of 1787 events took a turn for the worse.
On 28 June 1787, Adriaan van Leeuwenhoek, a farmer, was visited by Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia. But Stadholder William V’s wife was not a guest in the best room of his Goejanverwellesluis farmhouse of her own volition. She had been stopped on her way from Nijmegen by armed Patriots who feared that she would spark a rising of Orangists if she were allowed to appear in The Hague.
The princess was unharmed and was released two days later. Yet Prussia’s king Frederick William II felt unable to allow this insult to his sister to go unpunished. In the autumn of 1787, Prussian troops moved in and restored Orange control over the entire country. Some 40,000 Patriots fled the country, most to France.
On 4 October 1794, following heavy bombardment and a siege lasting several weeks, Den Bosch surrendered to a French army under General Jean-Charles Pichegru. Troops of the French Revolutionary army had invaded the Republic in August of that year, yet had stopped at the principal rivers until winter. A severe frost enabled them to cross the water with comparative ease and march north. Stadholder William V fled with his family from Scheveningen to England. In the wake of the French army came the returning Patriots who had sought refuge in France in 1787. They now took over the reins of power.