Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Secret Treaty of Dover

The War of Devolution was ended in 1668 by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Louis surrendered most of his conquests but retained the frontier towns of Lille, Douai and Charleroi. Following the treaty Louis and his chief minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert believed he had surrendered too much and began to plan a further war against the Dutch. But he needed allies.

In August 1668 Colbert’s brother, Charles Colbert de Croissy came to London as ambassador with instructions to propose an alliance with England. Secret negotiations began, and included Charles’s correspondence with his sister, Henriette (Madame), duchess of Orleans. Humiliated by her husband’s homosexuality, Henriette consoled herself by acting as unofficial envoy to her adored brother, and, playing on Louis’ fondness for her, became a very effective mediator. She and Charles corresponded in cipher.

The French alliance has another powerful advocate in the crypto-Catholic duke of York. Arlington was also won over as was Lady Castlemaine, who had been a Catholic since 1663..

On 16 May 1670, Henriette arrived in England, ostensibly just to visit her brother. On 22 May Arlington, Clifford and de Croissy signed the secret Treaty of Dover (now in the Clifford Papers in the British Library). Both kings agreed that their joint resolution was ‘to humble the pride of the States General’;

(i) Louis was to pay Charles £225,000 p. a. during the ensuing war against the Dutch;
(ii) Following the war, parts of the Dutch Republic were to be ceded to England and France, while the remainder would become the hereditary principality of the Prince of Orange;
(iii) The penal laws against Catholic were to be suspended;
(iv) Charles declared that ‘being convinced of the truth of the Roman Catholic religion [he] is resolved to declare it and to reconcile himself with the Church of Rome as soon as his country’s affairs permit’;
(v) In order to cope with the expected opposition, Louis agreed to pay Charles £150,000 and to provide and pay 6,000 troops ‘for the execution of his design’. But the timing of the announcement of his conversion was left to Charles.
The other three members of the Cabal were ignorant of the treaty, and outside a very close circle, only the duke of York knew of its contents. With typical perfidy, Charles appointed Buckingham and Ashley to negotiate a second treaty, the traité simulé (eventually ratified in December) which did not contain religious clauses.

The very secrecy of the treaty has made it difficult for historians to assess Charles’s motives and intentions. The subsidies (which totalled £375,000) were certainly not sufficient to solve his financial problems. Probably two other factors were important: admiration for Louis; an intense dislike of the Dutch and a desire for revenge for the Medway disaster. Perhaps Charles should not be blamed for failing to foresee the threat posed by French hegemony. Cromwell had made the same mistake.
The real problem lies in the Catholic clause. What were Charles’s motives? There was also an ambiguity in the treaty - what was to come first - war or conversion? The treaty does not necessarily demonstrate that Charles was a closet Catholic.