Caught Between Empires


South Africa remained in Dutch hands for the better part of the eighteenth century. In response to the French Revolution, many countries attempted to invade France and seize the opportunity to gain power. However, factions among the Dutch sympathized with the French, which led to revolt and the French invaded the Dutch Republic to help their fellow revolutionaries. This led William the V of Orange the stadholder, or leader of the Dutch Republic, to flee the country and the new regime, the Patriot’s Party, aligned itself closely to revolutionary France. Meanwhile, William V took up residence in England and issued the Kew Letters, which included orders for colonial governors to transfer power of the colonies to the English for “safekeeping”. 

Surprisingly, the British actually kept their promise and returned the colony to the Dutch in 1802 as part of a peace treaty with France. The peace was, however, short-lived. The Napoleonic Wars broke out a year later between France and England. Once Napoleon conquered the Netherlands and set up a proxy government, the Kingdom of Holland, the British promptly seized South Africa again and didn’t let go until it became a free country in the twentieth century.