Napoleon in Holland

End September 1811 Napoleon I visited the former Kingdom of Holland; he explained to Armand Augustin Louis de Caulaincourt his goals: a war at sea with England, to form a government, and ordering the “Routes impériales”.[1]
Napoleon in Amsterdam by Charles Rochussen

Holland as part of the First French Empire

The “Corsican” wanted to control every seaport in the area and on 16 March 1810 Bouches-de-l’Escaut and Bouches-du-Rhin became part of the French Empire. King Louis Bonaparte opposed his older brother when Napoleon’s troops were not only occupying the coast but went more inland. (Oudinot had arrived with 20.000 soldiers to prevent smuggling and organize the blockade.) After Napoleon threatened to occupy Amsterdam Louis Bonaparte resigned on 1 July 1810 in favor of Napoleon Louis Bonaparte, his son. The Dutch départments were incorporated in the First French Empire by decree on 9 July;[2] “with Imperial coastguards, customs and police allowed to operate the smuggling staunched at last.”[3] On 18 August 1810 Napoleon ordered (by decree) the Dutch army ceased to exist, and incorporated it into the French Imperial army.

On 1 January 1811 the country was divided into seven départements Zuyderzée, Bouches-de-la-Meuse, Yssel-Supérieur, Bouches-de-l’Yssel, Frise (1811), Ems-Occidental, and Ems-Oriental.[note 1] Also the Batavian navy ceased to exist on that day.

On 18 August 1811 Napoleon ordered (by decree) that everybody without a last name had to choose one.

Until 17 November 1813 Charles-François Lebrun, duc de Plaisance served as governor-general of Holland, reorganizing its départements more efficient and law impartial. He was assisted by the prefects Antoine de Celles, and Goswin de Stassart[5] with Alexander Gogel on Finance and François Jean-Baptiste d’Alphonse on Internal Affairs as “Intendant-General”. The latter was responsible for the “Aperçu sur la Hollande”, published in the end of April 1813, full with statistics and details.[6]


Sluis (the Netherlands): Damme canal, also called Napoleon Canal

De intocht van Napoleon te Amsterdam, 9 oktober 1811 by Mattheus Ignatius van Bree

On 24 September 1811 Napoleon arrived in Breskens, on the 27th in Vlissingen, a strategic city he had visited twice before (in 1803 and 1810). A few days later he met with his wife in Antwerp. Then they traveled north to the fortified cities of Willemstad and Hellevoetsluis. He was accompanied with 75 people and by general Dirk van Hogendorp, who would later become governor of Königsberg, Vilnius, Breslau and Hamburg (and mentioned as one of the few in Napoleon’s will). On 5 October he arrived in Gorinchem; the next day he left for Utrecht. There he met with members of the Old Catholic Church and Jews. On 9 October he arrived in Amsterdam, the third capital of his empire and stayed a fortnight in the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. With the Dutch merchants he discussed the blockade and the forthcoming collapse of the British economy.[7] He visited several wharfs, the military barracks in Quartier Saint Charles, the fortifications on Pampus, and the Trippenhuis. In the evening François-Joseph Talma gave a performance of Andromaque. Via Broek in Waterland [8] and Medemblik Napoleon traveled to Den Helder, in Napoleon’s view the most important naval base in the north. Vice-admiral Jan Willem de Winter, who later would be buried in the Panthéon, joined him to Texel, and discussed the possibilities to keep the English away from the Dutch coast. Because of a lack of funds earlier that year 4.000 Dutch fishermen were forced (through conscript) to join the fleet.[9]

Back in Amsterdam Cornelis Rudolphus Theodorus Krayenhoff accompanied Napoleon to see the fortifications of Muiden and Naarden.[10] The next day, on 22 October the universities of Utrecht, Harderwijk, Franeker were closed. Also the Athenaeums of Amsterdam and Deventer were shut. François Noël and George Cuvier proposed to have Leiden and Groningen kept their universities.[11] By decree all christian denominations received money from the municipality.[12]

Villa Welgelegen in 1815

In Haarlem Napoleon visited the Teylers Museum and Paviljoen Welgelegen.[13] On his way south he visited the locks in Katwijk aan Zee.[14] In Leiden he talked to scientists as Sebald Justinus Brugmans, Gerard Sandifort and Matthijs Siegenbeek. In the Hague he met with Cornelis Felix van Maanen, the president of the Imperial High Court and responsible for introducing the Code Napoléon in the Netherlands. The couple stayed one night in Lange Voorhout Palace;[15] in Rotterdam in Schielandshuis. Through Gouda, Oudewater, and Utrecht Napoleon arrived on Loo Palace. He visited the IJssel, Hattem, where Herman Willem Daendels‘ wife lived, and Zwolle. On the last day of October he left Nijmegen and travelled to Wesel.

Before Napoleon arrived a Cadastre and Civil registry were introduced. After he left the French tax and juridical system became effective on 1 January 1812. Between 1810-1813 around 35.000 Dutchmen between 20 and 50 were forced to join his Grande Armée or his fleet; around 25.000 joined Napoleon to Russia.[16] Most Dutchmen served in the 123rd, 124th, 125th and 126th Regiment d’Infanterie de Ligne, and 33e Régiment d’Infanterie Légère.[17]

Every family had to choose a last name before 1 January 1814.


  1. C.F. Gijsberti Hodenpijl (1904) Napoleon in Holland, p. 151-152.
  3. S. Schama, p. 612.
  4. C.F. Gijsberti Hodenpijl (1904), p. 5-6.
  5. C.F. Gijsberti Hodenpijl (1904), p. 5-6.
  6. S. Schama, p. 618.
  7. Simon Schama, p. 613.
  9. C.F. Gijsberti Hodenpijl (1904), p. 119.
  10. C.F. Gijsberti Hodenpijl (1904), p. 143.
  11. C.F. Gijsberti Hodenpijl (1904), p. 159.
  12. Homan, G.D. (1978), p. 133.
  13. Napoleon in Haarlem
  16. Homan, G.D. (1978), p. 140, 143.


  1. In January 1810 the southern part of the Netherlands was already split up into Deux-Nèthes, Meuse-Inférieure (1795), Bouches-de-l’Escaut, and Bouches-du-Rhin, but the latter two not part of “Hollande”. For the sake of completeness the earlier formed departments Roer (1795) and Escaut have to be mentioned too.[4]


  • Gijsberti Hodenpijl, C.F. (1904) Napoleon in Holland.
  • Homan, G.D. (1978) Nederland in de Napoleontische Tijd 1795-1815.
  • Joor, J. (2000) De Adelaar en het Lam. Onrust, opruiing en onwilligheid in Nederland ten tijde van het Koninkrijk Holland en de Inlijving bij het Franse Keizerrijk (1806–1813), p. 503-510.
  • Schama, S. (1987) Patriots and Liberators. Revolution in the Netherlands 1780 – 1830. Chapter 13 “Babylon Undone” 1810-1813.

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