Herman Willem Daendels was the son of a mayor and grew up in Hattem, in the province of Gelderland. Born into turbulent times, he proved to be a decisive and energetic individual, who was directly involved in numerous momentous events.
After playing a leading role in the Patriot Movement against William V, stadholder of the United Dutch Provinces, Daendels fled to France in 1787, when Prussian troops restored the Oranges to power in the Netherlands. He returned as a general in the French army, and helped pave the way for the Batavian Republic in 1795.
Back home, Daendels became embroiled in various political struggles within the national government in The Hague. He failed in his role as commander to prevent the Anglo-Russian army from invading North Holland in 1799 and fell into disfavour. Nevertheless, Louis Bonaparte, king of Holland from 1806 to 1810, appointed him governor of the Dutch East Indies in 1807. He became famous for constructing the Great Post Road that runs across Java, which represented a major step in the modernisation of the Dutch East Indies. However, Daendels was recalled by Emperor Napoleon and took part in his ill-fated Russian Campaign in 1812. After Napoleon’s fall, King William I appointed Daendels governor of the Dutch colonies and possessions on the Gold Coast (now part of Ghana) in Africa, where he died of malaria.