January 26, 2022

The Kettle War (or Marmite War) is the mocking name of a brief encounter between the navy of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and the Habsburg Monarchy (Austrian Netherlands) on October 8, 1784. It was named the Kettle War because the only aimed shot from that incident hit a soup kettle.


During the Eighty Years' War, the Northern Netherlands formed its own republic. The Southern Netherlands remained in the possession of the Spanish Habsburgs. They passed to the Austrian Habsburgs after the War of the Spanish Succession. During and after the Eighty Years' War, the Republic 'closed' the Scheldt (see article Closing the Scheldt). This meant that sea-going vessels could not sail directly to and from Antwerp and Ghent, but that their cargo on the Zeeland route had to be transhipped (bottomed) onto inland vessels. Emperor Joseph II, ruler of the Southern Netherlands, drew up a long list of wishes in May 1784, based on alleged old grievances and claims. This included the transfer of Maastricht and surrounding areas and border villages in State Brabant. The emperor wanted to negotiate about this, but did not rule out military action. He hinted that he was willing to make concessions if his ships were allowed unimpeded passage across the Scheldt and free trade in the East Indies and West Indies. The Republic of State Flanders and the Staatse Scheldt fortresses also had to give up and release the customs tariffs of the South. In exchange, she could receive Austrian Upper Gelre and border corrections in the Lands of Overmaas. Joseph II did not directly demand the 'opening' of the Scheldt, because he had no generally recognized international law arguments for this. The Republic did not accede to the Austrian demands and reacted cautiously to the preliminary provocations.

The incident

The emperor had drawn hope from the political developments of the previous year. By the Anglo-French peace of 1783, France had regained free use of the port city of Dunkirk. The Anglo-American Peace Treaty of the same year established free navigation throughout Mississippi for British and Americans. Convinced that the Republic would not dare to do anything against him, Joseph II sent a ship, the brig Louis, down the Scheldt from Antwerp on 6 October 1784. However, the brig was ordered to moor at Saeftinghe from the schooner Dolphyn of the Admiralty of Zeeland. When the latter did not heed, and after a few warning shots, the Dolphyn fired a aimed cannon shot at the deck of the ship. The Louis stopped his passage and surrendered to the Zeelanders. Another Austrian brig, which left Ostend for Antwerp, was stopped near Vlissingen on 15 October. Joseph II found no support anywhere for his demand for the 'opening' of the Scheldt; France also refused it. The emperor acquiesced in it and then mainly wanted to save his honour.

Negotiations and outcome

As a result of this conflict, the two countries began negotiations in Paris in 1785, with France mediating. Matteus Lestevenon van Berkenroode and Gerard Brantsen, ambassadors in Paris, represented the Republic. Florimond Count of Mercy-Argenteau was the emperor's very tenacious negotiator. It finally led to the Treaty of Fontainebleau in November 1785. It confirmed the Treaty of Munster, the sovereignty of the Republic over the Scheldt below Saeftinghe and the 'closure' of the Scheldt. However, the emperor would become fully master of the Scheldt between Saeftinghe and Antwerp and of the forts on that stretch. He also received border corrections at Staats-Vlaanderen. However, Maastricht and the surrounding area remained with the Republic. As compensation for giving up his alleged (but not recognized by any country) claims to Maastricht, the Republic of Joseph II would pay nine and a half million guilders, in addition to a

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