In 1806, the French emperor Napoleon made his younger brother Louis Bonaparte king of Holland. Although this brought an end to the Batavian Republic, the illusion of Dutch independence remained. When the kingdom was dissolved in 1810 and the country was absorbed into metropolitan France that final illusion vanished too.

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Lasting changes

Velvet ribbon inscribed ‘Representant’, Netherlands, c. 1798

Iron metre, copy of the standard metre in Paris. J.M. Kleman & Zoon, Amsterdam, c. 1814-1820

On 1 March 1796, the National Assembly met in The Hague, based on the French model: the first elected parliament in Dutch history. Members of the assembly were called representatives and this was inscribed on the fine sash they wore. Adoption of representational democracy was one of the many changes introduced in the Batavian Republic and during the French Period.

The wind of change came from France and blew away more than just the old administration. This was when the Dutch were introduced to the idea of a code of civil law and a code of criminal law, a population register, a land register, incremental income tax, riding on the right in the road and the decimal system of weights and measures.

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Kingdom of Holland

Portrait of Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland from 1806 to 1810. Charles Howard Hodges, 1809

Portrait of Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland, wife of King Louis Bonaparte. Anne Louis Girodet-Trioson, c. 1808

Although not of the House of Orange, Louis Bonaparte was the first king of the Netherlands. He made his official entry to The Hague with his wife and children on 23 June 1806. Louis had reluctantly married the beautiful Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of his brother Napoleon’s first wife. It was an unhappy marriage. The queen of Holland hated the climate of her new country and generally remained abroad.

The kingdom of Holland was not to survive for long. On 1 July 1810, Louis Bonaparte was forced by his brother, Emperor Napoleon, to abdicate from the throne and leave the country. On 9 July, the emperor annexed the kingdom to France.