The Prefectoral System

The creation of the gouvernements généraux marked merely the beginning of the challenge of introducing Napoleonic governance in the Netherlands and Northwest Germany. Napoleon Bonaparte’s so-called fundamental law of 28 Pluviose VIII (17 February 1800) had established a framework of préfets, sous-préfets, and maires, who respectively administrated the départements, arrondissements, and communes. This system of territorial governance was also to be implemented in the newly incorporated northern departments. It personified the desire for ‘modern’ (in the sense of ‘French’) territorial governance and was seen as effective in asserting state power throughout Europe. Prefects were in charge of the day-to-day running of their respective department. Decisions were made at the central level, to be carried out by prefects without criticism. Information from the lower levels had to flow back to the ministries in the reverse manner. In the process of putting Napoleon’s wishes into practice, prefects played a pivotal role. Stuart Woolf has therefore referred to them as one of Napoleon’s ‘tools of conquest’.Footnote 1

Remarkably, long, prefects were portrayed rather one-dimensionally. Historians saw them either as virtually autonomous ‘Little Emperors’ or as compliant state servants.Footnote 2 Although decisions were taken in the imperial core, and prefects, as agents of the central state, were meant to follow instructions to the letter, historians are showing that prefects not seldom followed their own path. As the embodiment of the state, maintaining good working relations with other actors was essential for the proper execution of prefectoral tasks. This position profile in itself indicates that the presumed rigidity of the Napoleonic state is not completely accurate.Footnote 3 Prefects went to great lengths to align the desires of the central state, of regions and themselves. Hence they played a complex and sometimes contradictory role within the Napoleonic state apparatus. Studying the introduction of prefectoral rule thus gives insight into the daily interactions between the Napoleonic state and society.

Recruiting Prefects

Whereas during the French Revolution local communities often elected officials, First Consul Bonaparte preferred a top-down system with appointed administrators who were closely connected to the central state.Footnote 4 Prefects were responsible for the flow of information, the maintenance of law and order, the monitoring of agriculture and religious communities, the appointment of lower government officials, and much more—basically all things pertaining to the maintaining of the Empire’s social order. Therefore, the official recruitment policy was not to appoint prefects from the region they administrated.

Selecting candidates was a complicated task. Informal patronage networks, family ties (by marriage) and previous political experience all played an important role. In particular the High Dignitaries Cambacérès and Lebrun were influential in the selection of prefects, the former for southern departments, the latter for northern departments.Footnote 5 Many prefects selected by the entourage around Bonaparte had a moderate revolutionary background, or were not very politically outspoken. The share of aristocrats among the corps of prefects increased over time, which is partially explained by the larger share of the nobility in the incorporated departments.Footnote 6 The complex process of patronage, enquiring, and reassessing is evident from the Interior Ministry’s archival records, which, as Isser Woloch has aptly put it, consists of ‘oversized worksheets for collating information [on potential (sub)prefects, and a] mass of supporting letters and petitions either recommending individuals or soliciting positions in one’s own behalf’.Footnote 7

Significantly, the corps of prefects ‘professionalized’ over time. A system of formal education and training, developed by Napoleon, was the auditoriat of the Council of State. As an auditeur, potential (sub)prefects could gain knowledge and experience in the Council of State and in time be assessed by seniors to what extent they were suitable for an administrative career.Footnote 8 On average, a Napoleonic prefect served just over four years, then posted elsewhere.

Newly appointed prefects quickly gathered information on all potentially relevant topics. The prefect was assisted by a conseil de préfecture, comprising important dignitaries of the department, usually five, who settled administrative, fiscal, and legal disputes. Additionally, each department had a so-called conseil général du département, consisting of 16–24 members, who met annually to discuss the distribution of taxes and give financial advice. The conseils de préfecture and conseils généraux had a certain influence. The notables were taken seriously when they submitted their views to Paris, in case of disagreement with the prefect.Footnote 9

Moreover, prefects had at their disposal a Secretary-General who had largely administrative functions. But in the absence or illness of the prefect they acted as his deputy, for instance, maintaining the correspondence with subprefects. As such they were more than just clerks. Understandably secretaries-generals were carefully appointed by the central government.Footnote 10 Prefects were also keen on maintaining informal contacts with local advisors for their knowledge and skills in matters of local interest.Footnote 11 In fact, all 15 Secretaries-General who were appointed in the Netherlands and Northwest Germany were such locals.

Before Incorporation

Well before the Netherlands were incorporated, Batavian revolutionaries had criticized old decentralized structures, particularly the provinces with their traditional autonomy.

In 1798, the first constitution of the Batavian Republic ended provincial autonomy, and introduced hierarchical-centralist principles. Like in France, new departments were formed that no longer followed the historic boundaries and took their names from rivers. With the moderate Dutch constitution of 1801, departments regained old provincial borders and a small part of their powers, but the unitary state was kept intact. There was no question of a return to pre-revolutionary provincial autonomy.Footnote 12

Territorial governance had been further reformed during the Kingdom of Holland. Louis Bonaparte’s reforms placed authority at all levels of government in the hands of an individual subordinate to the state. Louis considered Dutch governance to be characterized by ‘inertia’. At the head of a department came a landdrost, whose main tasks were to carry out government orders, and supervise administration and police. In the kwartieren (the equivalents of the arrondissements) so-called kwartierdrosten carried out the orders of the landdrost and oversaw the municipalities. Nonetheless, according to Dutch legislators, a moderately independent council of assessoren (assesors) would have to be set up alongside the landdrost. Preferably, departmental officials would come from the region. Louis was able to diminish the role of the assessors, but they remained a power factor, unique to the Dutch system.Footnote 13 And although Louis had wished to rearrange the departments, also sacrificing their traditional names for geographical neologisms, departments continued to follow their old borders and retained their names.

Overall, Dutch territorial governance was a mix of Dutch and French elements. Louis Bonaparte desired feedback on it and consulted Jean Guillaume Locré de Roissy, Secretary-General of the Council of State. From a Dutch perspective, the organization was top-down and regulated, but Locré preferred a more hierarchical and strict organization. Though Louis had in 1809 succeeded in pushing through the decision that in the near future assessors were replaced by departmental councils, according to Locré the departments were still too autonomous and powerful. Locré reminded Louis that administrators were mere ‘instruments’, and advised to further hierarchically reorganize territorial governance, limiting the powers of the departments.Footnote 14

Whereas Dutch territorial governance had many features in common with the French system, that was not the case in Northwest Germany. It was much more diverse. In Northwest Germany, a limited tradition of territorial governance existed. Small principalities, like Arenberg, Münster or Osnabrück, had been ruled by local Princes or Prince-Bishops, therefore lacked an elaborate system of ‘subnational’ governance. And the three Hanseatic city-states were ruled by urban collegial bodies. Nevertheless, there were also regions accustomed to territorial governance.

Firstly, these were areas with a Prussian past. In Prussian regions, the so-called Kriegs- und Domänenkammern were in place, which had been established in 1723 for the purpose of governing territories distant from Berlin. These provincial bodies were responsible for the levying of taxes that served to maintain Prussia’s standing army, as well as for the day-to-day administration of lands outside Prussia proper—hence the words Krieg (war) and Domänen (domains) in their title. This system of governance, while recognizing the primacy of the central state, was not a uniform or centralized model comparable to the Napoleonic one. In Prussian Northwest Germany, Münster, Aurich, and Minden were home to a Kriegs- und Domänenkammer. All Kriegs- und Domänenkammern were subordinate to the General-Direktorium (General-Directory) in Berlin, and its members (called Kriegs- und Domänenrat) often were people from outside the region. Although rather progressive administrative reforms were implemented in 1807, these did not apply to Northwest Germany, which by then was already outside Prussia’s sphere of influence.Footnote 15

Secondly, the Hanseatic departments comprised areas previously belonging to a Napoleonic vassal monarchy, the Kingdom of Westphalia, or the Grand-Duchy of Berg, which both had been subdivided into French-style departments. For instance, in Westphalia, borders did not follow old territorial divisions and Westphalian departments too had geographical names. However, the local political elite tried to temper the restructuring of institutions and territorial subdivisions. It demanded a substantial role and respect for its privileges; in fact, about half of the prefects and subprefects in the Kingdom of Westphalia belonged to the nobility.Footnote 16 Certain districts of the three northern departments of the Kingdom were merged with the new Hanseatic departments. Notable arrondissements were Osnabrück and Minden (both transferred to Ems-Supérieur), and Stade and Lüneburg (to Bouches-de-l’Elbe). And some of the northern districts of the Grand Duchy of Berg were merged into the department of Lippe—most importantly the city of Münster. Thus, prior to 1811, about a quarter of the Northwest-German arrondissements (not counting ‘Dutch’ Ostfriesland) was familiar with French-style territorial governance.

The Dutch South of the Rhine

The first prefects in the Netherlands were Nicolas Frémin de Beaumont and Patrice de Coninck. The first was appointed prefect of the newly created department of Bouches-du-Rhin, in April 1810, the latter, in May, as prefect of Bouches-de-l’Escaut. These departments had been reluctantly handed over to the Empire by King Louis Bonaparte, after the short-lived British occupation of the island of Walcheren the year before.

Nicolas Frémin de Beaumont came from a distinguished Norman family and had started his career under Louis XVI. Shortly before the Revolution he was appointed to the position of Mayor of Coutances, which he held until 1790. After several judicial offices, he was appointed subprefect of Coutances under the Consulate and was a member of the Legislative Corps for the Manche department, where he was considered an expert in financial matters.Footnote 17 Frémin de Beaumont was a protégé of Charles-François Lebrun, who had played a part in his appointment.Footnote 18

Initially, the prefect was positive. Generally, inhabitants had been cooperative, especially the clergy. To his satisfaction, local administrators had become well informed about Napoleonic governance, albeit things did not yet run as smoothly as in France. However, he was worried about obstruction from the town of Nijmegen. Its elite disliked the merger with former ‘Staats-Brabant’ (ruled from The Hague). Frémin de Beaumont pointed out a contrast between the Protestant, originally Orangist, elite of Nijmegen, and the more French-oriented citizens of préfecture’s-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc). Frémin de Beaumont contributed this to the higher level of education of Nijmegen’s notables, who had vivid memories of the relative independence of their city in Republican times.Footnote 19 During his time of office, Nijmegen continued to worry the prefect because possible rebellious sentiments from north of the Rhine could be transferred to his department.Footnote 20 The people in the districts in former Brabant, who until 1795 had been second-class inhabitants in the Dutch Republic, generally accepted Frémin de Beaumont, who was known as a moderate administrator.Footnote 21

From May to December 1810, the Fleming Patrice de Coninck acted as prefect of Bouches-de-l’Escaut, as the historical Province of Zeeland was now called. Originally, the idea had been to add this entire area to Deux-Nethès, governing it from Antwerp. When the emperor was in Middelburg in May 1810, mayor Jacob Hendrik Schorer managed to persuade Napoleon to abandon this plan and establish the separate department of Bouches-de-l’Escaut.Footnote 22 Little is known about De Coninck’s brief stay in Middelburg, except that supposedly ‘he was very esteemed here’.Footnote 23 He was then transferred to Hamburg to become prefect of the new Bouches-de-l’Elbe department. Patrice de Coninck will be further discussed below in the section on the Hanseatic prefects.

De Coninck’s successor was another Fleming, Pierre Joseph Pycke, who previously had been mayor of his native town of Ghent. Pycke cooperated well with the central government, without antagonizing the locals too much.Footnote 24 According to prefect Pycke, the former political elite had difficulty accepting its new role. There was little overt opposition, but nevertheless widespread dissatisfaction. To impose French rule, the diligent Pycke established a secret police and reported personally to police chief Réal about public order.Footnote 25 Pycke frequently called the people of Zeeland ‘docile’ and ‘submissive’. Gradually, when Napoleonic institutions and measures were slowly accepted, Pycke became more positive. The population would not readily admit it, but became used to being French, Pycke claimed.Footnote 26 Undoubtedly, the often, perhaps overly, positive comptes administratives emphasized the ‘tranquility’ in the originally Dutch lands, yet, the relatively well-functioning system of conscription indeed partly supports the claims of prefects such as Pycke. In retrospect, one inhabitant of Zeeland wrote that, compared to other parts of the Netherlands, they had been reasonably fortunate with both prefects.Footnote 27

Prefects in the Départements de la Hollande

North of the Rhine, when the Kingdom of Holland was incorporated into the French Empire. Provisionally, existing territorial governance was retained, albeit with French terminology. Landrosten were renamed préfets, and kwartierdrosten became sous-préfets. Similarly, at the municipal level the single head of authority became the maire.

Despite similarities between former Dutch departments and the French prefectoral system, the decision to introduce a system of one-headed government at every level of the administration was a sharp break with Dutch tradition.Footnote 28 The Dutch commission in Paris had recommended leaving territorial divisions the same. Consequently, the borders of the departments North of the Rhine relatively coincided with those of the former departments of Holland. Since French departments tended to be larger, the Dutch departments of Amstelland and Utrecht were merged, as well as Groningen and Drenthe. Starting on 1 January 1811, imperial departments were to be in place.

In the former Kingdom of Holland, the selection of prefects had of course to take into account the views of Lebrun, who was more inclined to rely more on Dutch collaborators than many of his French colleagues. The General-Governor feared that replacing incumbent officeholders would discourage the new subjects. Maintaining (a part of) the Dutch administrative corps could help to create support for Napoleonic governance. Moreover, this would enable his General-Government to tap into the knowledge of Dutch collaborators.

Two landdrosten could continue their work in the same place, now in the capacity of prefect, namely Hendrik Ludolf Wichers in Groningen, and Petrus Hofstede in Zwolle. Hendrik-Ludolf Wichers was native to Groningen. Trained as a jurist, he did not hold an office between the Revolution and 1802.Footnote 29 It seems Wichers was initially rather cooperative, which made measures such as the conscription not too problematic. Wichers’ correspondence with the General-Government shows that he grew concerned about the needs of the population. For example, early 1813, municipalities had been instructed to ‘voluntarily’ provide horses and fully equipped horsemen (so-called cavaliers montés). Prefect Wichers and subprefects decided that the local communities should provide about 100 horses. In agriculture, no man could be missed. Wichers thought it would be better to demand twice as many horses, without horsemen. He suggested to compensate villagers in the hope of sparing the poorest people. Intendant Dalphonse replied that this was Wichers’ concern since he had decided to reinterpret orders.Footnote 30 This should not have come as a surprise. A year earlier, he had made a similar request to financially aid poor women and children of soldiers, which Dalphonse had also rejected.Footnote 31

Prefect of Bouches-de-l’Yssel, Petrus Hofstede, was born in the Southern Netherlands, but came from a family native to the region of Drenthe. His father had been stationed in Tournai, in one of the forts of the Dutch Republic that acted as a buffer against France. It was in Drenthe that Hofstede started an administrative career. As an Orangist he was evicted from his posts during the Batavian Revolution and was office-less for almost seven years. Louis Bonaparte appointed him as landdrost of the Department of Drenthe, and subsequently of Overijssel.Footnote 32 Hofstede was reluctant to implement drastic reforms. For example, in the case of poverty care, prefect Hofstede pointed at the limits of harmonization and centralization. New institutions may well be better, Hofstede wrote, but the present was difficult enough, even without reforms, ‘as long as war continues to exert such a cruel influence on almost every part of society’.Footnote 33

Petrus Hofstede deviated from the official line when he disapproved of it. In February 1813, widespread desertion was feared. Formally, prefect Hofstede instructed his subordinates to pursue deserters and tell the population that assistance to fugitives would not be tolerated. Nevertheless, Hofstede did not threaten with the severe punishment of quartering soldiers in the parental home of a deserter. Punished families would then have to provide for the soldiers, which was a hated and costly sanction. Hofstede tried to postpone this punitive measure. However, reluctance among conscripts persisted. Hofstede was required to report in detail on the progress of the investigations and reprimand defectors’ families. He made little effort and preferred quartering gendarmes instead of soldiers. However, the number of gendarmes in the department was limited and they were also needed throughout the department to ease the conscription process. Moreover, when it became clear the parents of a reluctant conscript could not cover maintenance costs, Hofstede decided that the family’s possessions had to be publically sold—a considerably milder punishment. Hofstede felt harsher sanctions were impracticable and counterproductive.Footnote 34

Two landdrosten switched department: Regnerus Livius van Andringa de Kempenaer went from Friesland to former Gelderland, while Johan Gijsbert Verstolk van Soelen made the opposite journey. Van Andringa de Kempenaer came from a lineage of Frisian aristocrats. In 1795 he, like many, had been evicted from all posts. After the reconciliation of Dutch revolutionaries and Orangists in 1801, he was appointed member of the Legislative Body. Under Louis Bonaparte he was appointed landdrost of his native Friesland.Footnote 35

On 4 February 1812, a major disturbance took place on the occasion of the handing back of the restored Sint-Walburgis Church in Arnhem to its Catholic inhabitants. For years it had been used as an arsenal. Since authorities feared that old tensions between Protestants and Catholics would flare up, on the day of the consecration, next to the regular police, also the urban militia and the gendarmerie were present. During the ceremony, attended by officials like the prefect, citizens gathered outside the church. However, things escalated between various law enforcers. When a gendarme refused to carry out orders from an urban militia officer, the latter pulled his sword and threatened the gendarme. This promptly resulted in a fight between the (mostly French) gendarmes and local militia members. Also, bystanders, incited by the militia members, joined in the fight. When the noise of the clattering of arms and shouting was heard in the church, the police rushed to separate the parties. Prefect Van Andringa de Kempenaer dismissed the disturbance as unimportant and did not inform the General-Government. Of course, Lebrun and Dalphonse learned of it and reprimanded the prefect.Footnote 36

The General-Government kept its eye on prefect Van Andringa de Kempenaer. Intendant Dalphonse wrote the prefect: ‘people complain that you do not welcome the French enough and that you give too much preference to Dutchmen […] it is advisable that you seek to make a fusion of the Dutch spirit with the French spirit, and that you bring together Frenchmen and Dutchmen’.Footnote 37 And like his fellow prefect Wichers, Van Andringa de Kempenaer was critical of certain measures, such as the cavaliers montés demanded by Paris. Van Andringa de Kempenaer undertook the desired action, but only after reporting it to Dalphonse, underscoring that he considered the legal basis of the demands to be insufficient.Footnote 38 Nevertheless, the prefect was compliant enough in French eyes. A later biographer wrote that the fact that the prefect was maintained by the Emperor, even when he was in bad health, ‘perhaps pleads against his independence’.Footnote 39 Van Andringa de Kempenaer died on 3 December 1813 while Prussian troops besieged Arnhem.

In the department Frise, former landdrost of Gelderland was installed as prefect. Johan Gijsbert Verstolk van Soelen came from a family of Rotterdam patricians. Verstolk van Soelen was known as a diplomatic man, a quality that during the post-Napoleonic period would earn him the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs. He largely endorsed the ideas behind Napoleonic governance, but advocated a moderate approach, much like the intermediary government. Verstolk van Soelen could navigate between the needs of the central state and those of his department. He was not hated by the people, nor was he reprimanded from above, being able to meet the minimum requirements of cooperation regarding unpopular measures like conscription.Footnote 40 Also, his collaboration with other Napoleonic actors, such as the French troops, went rather well. For instance, when the French commander-general in Leeuwarden complained to Governor Lebrun about local members of the National Guard (‘three quarters are laborers, workers, bad subjects and drunkards, always doing foolish things and even insulting their officers’) Verstolk van Soelen was willing to come up with a solution.Footnote 41 And in cases of popular resistance, he did not hesitate to call upon the gendarmerie, military or departmental guard.Footnote 42

Apart from Dutch natives, two experienced French prefects, both from the Southern Netherlands, were sent to introduce Napoleonic governance North of the Rhine. Former préfet of the Vaucluse, baron de Stassart, became prefect of Bouches de la Meuse and Count De Celles (formerly préfet of Loire-Inférieure) became the prefect of Zuyderzée. Thus, the most significant Dutch departments, which together made up the old provinces of Holland and Utrecht, were controlled by Napoleonic officials of ‘Belgian’ origin. Charles-François Lebrun initially reported quite positively on the arrival of the experienced men.Footnote 43 Soon, however, it became evident that their appointment was counterproductive. The idea that the prefects from the former Southern Netherlands would function better due to their background, was clearly a misconception. They regarded themselves as being French through and through and had little affinity with the Dutch.Footnote 44

Goswin de Stassart, as prefect of Bouches-de-la-Meuse working from The Hague, had been subprefect of Orange, and subsequently in Avignon prefect of the Vaucluse department. Previously, thanks to his knowledge of German (as a child having lived in Austria) he had been intendant in Tirol and Vorarlberg. In 1806, he was entrusted with the task of administrative inspections in Belgium and the Rhineland, and between 1806 and 1808 had been Intendant in several Prussian territories. Based on his many years of experience in Prussia, Belgium and the Rhineland, he was convinced he knew how to approach the Dutch. ‘The main basis of my political thinking has been to develop the idea of a strong and vigorous administration, because I believe that is a very important point for the people of the north’, he told Indendant Baron Dalphonse.Footnote 45 Prefect De Stassart was known for his zeal and meticulousness, but also his temper. He was eager to settle pending matters ‘sur le champ’ (‘without delay’). De Stassart was on bad terms with the Napoleonic police, in particular Director-General Devilliers Duterrage in Amsterdam and the Commissioner-General in Rotterdam, De Marivault. De Stassart complained repeatedly to Minister De Montalivet, that De Marivault showed little respect.Footnote 46

De Stassart’s relationships with his Dutch subordinates, and with the General-Government, were also troublesome. In a confidential report that perplexed the Minister of the Interior, De Stassart accused nearly all his subordinates of Orangism. Moreover, De Stassart felt that the subprefect of Rotterdam was arrogant, the subprefect of Leiden incapable, that of Dordrecht lazy, and Brielle’s subprefect vain. As for the maires, the mayor of The Hague was supposedly too vain and that of Rotterdam too old. Lastly, Secretary-General Caan had little firmness and to too much self-esteem, the prefect concluded.Footnote 47 Intendant Dalphonse criticized De Stassart’s self-confident actions. In Dalphonse’s eyes, the prefect should ‘serve His Majesty as he wishes, as to avoid anything that may cause discontent and produce unrest and anxiety among the people’.Footnote 48 Instead of softening his tone, De Stassart denounced the General-Government, to which Dalphonse replied: ‘I know many trustworthy prefects, but I do not know any who has been given the freedom you are asking for’; the intendant added that he would report De Stassart’s undesirable behavior to the minister in Paris.Footnote 49

Antoine de Celles, the new prefect of the large Zuyderzée department, was born in Brussels and had made a career in the Napoleonic army and administration. Prior to his position in Amsterdam, he was posted in Loire-Inférieur, and was known as a diligent and experienced administrator. De Celles, however, could react aggressively, was overly punctilious, and had little interest in local traditions. Like De Stassart, seeking prompt integration into the French Empire, De Celles had bad relationships with numerous other Napoleonic officials.Footnote 50 De Celles could also be very critical of subordinates, such as certain subprefects. Both De Celles and De Stassart were determined to vigorously impose conscription. Their decisiveness and repressive actions, made a great impression on the public, contributing to hatred toward the French.

A recurring issue were De Celles’ disagreements between with the maire of Amsterdam, Willem Joseph van Brienen, who got along well with General-Government members.Footnote 51 In contrast, De Celles’ relations with the police were excellent; Devilliers du Terrage supported De Celles in his conflicts with the General-Government. When Napoleon heard of the disputes, Lebrun explained that Devilliers and De Celles were close acquaintances and the police exaggerated the situation. Lebrun argued conflicts had arisen due to the clash of two different political cultures. Also, the ‘great affection between the police and the prefecture […] must be taken into account when assessing its accusations’.Footnote 52 Additionally, Dalphonse pointed out that French governance was very different from Dutch tradition, and simply time was needed for the Dutch to accommodate.Footnote 53 When disagreements between the ardent prefects and subordinates escalated, Lebrun intervened and through his connections in Paris recalled decisions made by De Celles and De Stassart.Footnote 54

In Between the Netherlands and Germany

The Dutch-German border region consisted of Ems-Oriental (Ostfriesland and Jeverland) and Lippe (Münster and surrounds). Because Ems-Oriental fell under the supervision Charles-François Lebrun, appointing a prefect endorsed by Lebrun would have been logical. Lebrun considered former landdrost Willem Queysen an upright and competent man. He therefore regretted that the prefectship of Ems-Oriental was awarded to Frenchman Sébastien Louis Joseph Jannesson. Lebrun argued that replacing Queysen would discourage Dutch officials, which could be counterproductive.Footnote 55 However, according to French informant Gateau, Queysen was a staunch supporter of the House of Orange, which disqualified him.Footnote 56 Appointing a non-Dutchman was nonetheless a smart move because Ostfriesland and Jeverland in 1807 had not been enthusiastic about becoming Dutch, and the subsequent imposition of Dutch institutions.Footnote 57 Lebrun in August 1810 advocated using the German language in Ostfriesland, as he considered it a ‘great burden’ to treat inhabitants as if they were Dutch.Footnote 58 German became an official language in Ems-Oriental—similar to the Hanseatic departments, a few months later. And from November 1811 Ems-Oriental onward resorted under the Imperial Court in Hamburg, instead of The Hague.Footnote 59

Joseph Jannesson, born in Saverne, in the Alsace, had earlier been subprefect of Zweibrücken in the department Mont-Tonnerre, and member of the conseil de préfecture of Haut-Rhin. Subprefects in this district often came from military circles. Jannesson owed this appointment to General George Mouton, who was the brother-in-law of Jannesson’s brother-in-law Charles-Philippe d’Arberg. Before, as subprefect in the Rhineland, Jannesson had a problematic relationship with locals who preferred a native-German subprefect.Footnote 60 However, in Ems-Oriental, he seems to have been well-liked, being open to the opinions of people of all backgrounds. And Jannesson was not known to intervene extensively in all matters, unlike other prefects.Footnote 61 This ‘egalitarian’ approach seems to have displeased Lebrun. According to Lebrun, Jannesson ‘made choices that resemble those of the worst years of the revolution’; for instance, he appointed jury members who were ‘innkeepers, craftsmen, people with almost no property. I have already told Your Majesty that this man had neither the means nor the moral principles of these times’.Footnote 62

Further South, the Lippe department comprised the heart of the former Prince-Bishopric of Münster, which had fallen in Prussian hands in 1802 and subsequently been divided between other German principalities. Initially, all lands between the old borders of the Kingdom of Holland and the rivers Lippe and Ems had been added to several Dutch departments. But this encountered difficulties. There was uncertainty about the exact boundaries and the German administrators communicated poorly with their superiors in the Dutch department capitals.Footnote 63 Eventually, at the request of the local elite, the borders of old principality, were partly restored in 1811, in the form of the separate Lippe department. Judicially, it was labeled a ‘Rhenish’ department since the region fell under the Imperial Court in Liège.Footnote 64

Jean-Charles-Annet-Victorin de Lasteyrie du Saillant was appointed prefect in Münster. De Lasteyrie du Saillant, born in the village of Le Saillant in the Limousin, descended from old nobility from Southern France. Also a military man, De Lasteyrie du Saillant belonged to emigrants who took part in the royalist Army of Condé.Footnote 65 Being in close contact with Austrian fellow-officers, he must have acquainted himself with the German language. After the failed counterrevolutionary episode, he acquired the favor of Napoleon in the fight against the English, following the invasion of Walcheren in 1809. De Lasteyrie du Saillant has been characterized as a prefect determined to carry out the Emperor’s wishes; yet, also as attentive to the population.Footnote 66 President of the Imperial Court in Hamburg, De Serre characterized him as a generous ‘homme de qualité’.Footnote 67 The General-Government in Amsterdam continued to monitor the department intermittently; reports or inspection rounds often included Lippe.

Prefects in the Hanseatic Departments

The administrative reorganization of the Hanseatic departments largely followed procedures developed during the integration of the Rhineland. Territorial divisions were decided upon in Paris, but exact subdivisions were determined on the spot. During March 1811, Intendant René de Chaban systematically sought to work out a new territorial division of Northwest Germany, as until then the borders of the departments had only been roughly mapped out. Few detailed topographical maps were available. As a former prefect, De Chaban knew well how inadequate demarcations could complicate the work. The division into arrondissements was largely in accordance with French law and, as a result, the population and the territory were distributed relatively evenly among the departments. Where possible, De Chaban tried to take into account ‘local interests’ and ‘old habits’. For lands previously part of Berg or Westphalia, the existing district borders were used as a basis.Footnote 68

All three Hanseatic prefects came from ‘new’ Belgian of Rhenish departments. Intendant De Chaban doubted whether they should be granted full powers immediately, or that (like in Italy) the army should be given a certain degree of control, considering the German population knew ‘no fatherland’, and thus was guided by ‘personal advantage’ alone.Footnote 69 Indeed, military circles were an important source of candidates, as had been the case with De Lasteyrie du Saillant. De Chaban increasingly disliked that his powers over the prefects were limited. He criticized the lack of centralization to properly ‘direct’ prefects; the introduction of Napoleonic governance was thereby hampered, he argued.Footnote 70

Charles-Philippe d’Arberg, from the Belgian town of Jemappes, was made prefect of Bouches-du-Weser, operating from préfecture Bremen. He was a son of a general and a lady of the court of former Empress Joséphine. In other ways, too, he was related to prominent state officials: D’Arberg’s sisters were married to General Louis Klein and General George Mouton. As auditeur of the Council of State he was charged with diplomatic missions, such as the Peace of Tilsit in July 1807, and made a military career. In 1808, as Governor, he had to watch over the abdicated Spanish king, who was obliged to reside in the Castle of Valençay. As a man with both diplomatic and military backgrounds, he was an excellent candidate for the post in peripheral Bremen. Known are d’Arberg’s interventions in public health, and his actions against rebellious movements in his department.Footnote 71

Karel Lodewijk van Keverberg, or Karl Ludwig von Keverberg, was appointed prefect of Ems-Supérieur, working from Osnabrück. Von Keverberg was born in Haelen in the Dutch-speaking part of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, near the borders with the Dutch Republic and Prussian regions. Von Keverberg was talented, a member of a prominent Rhenish noble family, and familiar with German society. He had studied at Prussian universities with the intention of making a career there. The French Revolution temporarily interrupted his ambitions; with Napoleon’s coup-d’état, he quickly climbed all the sports of the French administrative ladder, beginning as the maire of his birthplace, working his way up to subprefect of Cleve. Von Keverberg requested to be appointed prefect of a department along the Rhine, but this would not be in keeping with the official policy of appointing as few administrators as possible from the region. Moreover, a polyglot like Von Keverberg could be useful elsewhere. With the incorporation, Von Keverberg, supported by his prefect, pleaded with Minister De Montalivet, emphasizing his deep knowledge of German society.Footnote 72

The sharp-minded Von Keverberg quickly realized that rigidly introducing Napoleonic governance would encounter problems and advocated a less strict implementation. Especially the wide range of traditional-local governance in Northwest Germany differed from the principles of French administrative regulations. Although the Commission in Hamburg understood Von Keverberg’s objections, he was urged to stay close to the French example.Footnote 73 During his term of office, Von Keverberg tried to reconcile French and German interests, and urged Napoleonic officials to be compassionate as inhabitants’ dissatisfaction with reforms came not out of anti-French feelings, but ‘out of love for their native country’. Ministers in Paris were susceptible to his arguments.Footnote 74 Von Keverberg became increasingly critical. He resented the repressive measures following the unrest in the Hanseatic departments, early 1813, its populations had been placed under a state of emergency. The prefect complained to Davout that inhabitants had made enough sacrifices in previous years.Footnote 75

Lastly, Patrice de Coninck, from the Flemish town of Bruges, became prefect of Bouches-de-l’Elbe. He had substantial administrative experience, as mentioned earlier, having been prefect of Jemappes and Bouches-de-l’Escaut. De Coninck’s name had not been on the list of prefectoral candidates presented to the emperor by the Paris Minister of the Interior. Given the profile of De Coninck, and his provenance, it can be assumed that De Coninck had been proposed by Charles-François Lebrun. In Hamburg, De Coninck was a skillful administrator and pursued a moderate policy, but was considered, especially by the army, as neither very energetic nor particularly diligent.Footnote 76 Also, Davout and De Chaban had their reservations about De Coninck—in their eyes, in this extraordinary border region, outstanding prefects were needed. But De Coninck was not viewed as an exceptionally hard worker, nor very perceptive. The prefect wanted to keep everyone happy, according to Davout, who tried to replace De Coninck.Footnote 77 De Coninck, in a letter to the Minister of the Interior in Paris, stressed that the Government Commission was doing too little to gain the general confidence of locals, which was not beneficial for their loyalty to the Empire.Footnote 78 When in February 1813 rumor spread that the Russians were about to take Hamburg, De Coninck, just having sent a letter to Paris affirming the loyalty of his department, attempted suicide, which was thwarted in time by a civil servant.Footnote 79

Circulation of Préfets

As a part of empire-building, numerous former landdrosten had been sent to France. The landdrost of the dissolved Utrecht department, Jan Hendrik van Lynden van Lunenburg, was compensated with membership of the Corps législatif in Paris—just like his fellow landdrost Willem Queysen of Oost-Friesland.Footnote 80 Plus, two landdrosten were promoted to prefect and exchanged places with French colleagues. Carel Gerard Hultman from The Hague went to Avignon, be take over the prefectship of Vaucluse from De Stassart. And Jan van Styrum exchanged Amsterdam for Nantes, to succeed De Celles in Loire-Inférieure. The latter quickly acquired the reputation in Nantes of a generous and friendly man who did his utmost for the community, so it is said. His son, Jan van Styrum jr., had traveled with him to France and had been made auditeur, with the prospect of a fine career within the Empire. But son Jan died on 8 May 1812, which weighed heavily on the parents. Eventually, Van Styrum had to resign in February 1813, when he came into conflict with the central government over conscription matters.Footnote 81

Vaucluse’s prefect Carel Hultman, in contrast, remained on good terms with the central government. Hultman born in Zutphen, was a former moderate revolutionary, who had gained diplomatic experience at the Prussian court during the Batavian Republic. Under Louis Bonaparte several distinguished posts were awarded him. That Hultman was a man from the center made him a good candidate for the French. Impartiality and honesty were seen as his qualities.Footnote 82 In Avignon he is said to have made himself popular through ‘wise and fair administration’, and then to have returned to the Netherlands at his own request.Footnote 83 Carel Hultman’s request came timely. Napoleon could make good use of an experienced Dutchman since two Dutch prefects were dismissed, namely Hofstede and Wichers. These had been quickly distrusted by the French, such as police official Réal, who considered them to be ‘weak’, both mentally and physically. Consequently, both Wichers and Hofstede were relieved of their duties on 12 March 1813. Newspapers reported euphemistically that they were ‘called to other functions’.Footnote 84 Hofstede’s loyalty was questioned. For instance, Réal was unpleasantly surprised that Hofstede’s sons did not serve in the army.Footnote 85 His reluctance to fight desertion angered superiors as well.

Hultman filled the gap left by Hofstede in Bouches-de-l’Yssel. Interior Minister De Montalivet desired a confidential correspondence with Hultman, so that the prefects (who, in his own words, had become ‘véritable français’) could gather ‘interesting details’ for Paris. Hultman was positive about the efforts and willingness of the territorial administrators, but was critical of their knowledge of the French prefectoral system. Particularly the Secretary-General, still clanged on to ‘old methods and forms’, wrote Hultman. There were also too few administrators who had a good command of the French language. Hultman indicated that improvements would take some time.Footnote 86 Hultman kept repeating this argument for quite some time—which is surprising since the presumed ‘novelty’ of prefectoral rule can be questioned, by the end of 1813.Footnote 87

For many years, only one prefect from Old France had been active in the Netherlands, namely Nicolas Frémin de Beaumont, from Coutance. But when the Napoleonic Empire came under increasing tension, a person from Old France was sought to strengthen the grip of the state. Ems-Occidental’s prefect Wichers, being ‘too old’ and too concerned with the needs of the local population, was replaced with Claude-Auguste Petit de Beauverger. Petit de Beauverger, born in the Bourgogne, had been the Secretary-General of Government Commission in Hamburg, working under Davout and De Chaban. Before that, he had been a departmental councilor in Paris, and member of the Legislative Corps. He was a brother-in-law of Nicolas Frochot, who from 1800 to 1812 had been prefect of the important Seine department. Shortly before, Frochot’s son Étienne had been appointed subprefect in Oldenburg, within Petit de Beauverger’s sphere of influence. Petit de Beauverger has been characterized as a compliant follower of Napoleon.Footnote 88

The General-Government in Amsterdam took a reserved attitude. When Petit de Beauverger arrived in Groningen, General-Governor Lebrun informed him that Intendant Dalphonse might have a consultative role, but his views were widely appreciated. And Lebrun also warned against the very positive newspaper articles, which could be interpreted as flattery by the Dutch. Lebrun also objected to negative reports on the previous prefect.Footnote 89 So relations between the General-Government and Petit de Beauverger were strained, and contrary to fellow-new-prefect Hultman, Petit de Beauverger was considerably more pessimistic on the progress. He saw little enthusiasm among the population. Moreover, according to the prefect, there were few dedicated people among civil servants and other state officials. Petit de Beauverger did not encounter any open opposition, but he did observe inertia and tacit resistance. Nevertheless, taxation and conscription encountered few problems, according to the prefect.Footnote 90

In Northwest Germany only one staff-change occurred, namely following the uprisings of early 1813 and subsequent fall of prefect Patrice de Coninck. Charles-Achille-Stanilas-Emile le Tonnelier de Breteuil, De Coninck’s replacement, brought with him imperial know-how. Originally from Paris, Breteuil had studied at the École Polytechnique, together with Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, married Le Tonnelier de Breteuil’s sister Charlotte, and become high officer of National Guard in Paris. Charlotte Le Tonnelier de Breteuil maintained a network to promote her brother’s career. The ardent prefect had earlier held the position of Intendant of Styria and Lower Carniola, in the Illyrian Provinces. On 30 November 1810, he was appointed prefect of Nièvre, from where he was transferred to Hamburg in March 1813.Footnote 91 As one of the emperor’s staunchest supporters, he quickly recognized the difficult task he was facing, as he wrote to his minister: ‘I see clearly that we are hated […] I hope we will force [the inhabitants] to love the Emperor and serve him as faithful subjects’.Footnote 92 In retrospect, tax inspector Boudet de Puymaigre characterized Le Tonnelier de Breteuil as highly influenceable. According to Boudet de Puymaigre, he was exceptionally loyal to Napoleon.Footnote 93 Such an obedient figure was exactly what Paris wanted, considering the circumstances, but it is doubtful whether the prefect’s appointment was beneficial to integration.

Maps 5.1 and 5.2 show the origins and geographical mobility of people who were appointed prefect, respectively in the Netherlands and Northwest Germany.Footnote 94 Black lines visualize the individual administrative careers, which gives insight into the circulation of prefects within the Empire. Orange circles represent birthplaces; the larger their size, the more often a person from that location was appointed to a new post—or persons, in the case of shared places of birth.

Map 5.1
figure 1

Circulation of the Napoleonic prefects in the Dutch departments

Map 5.2
figure 2

Circulation of the Napoleonic prefects in the Northwest German departments

Most prefects in the Dutch departments originally came from the Low Countries, either the former Dutch Republic or the Southern Netherlands. Only two came from Old France. Nevertheless, as the maps shows, ‘Belgian’ prefects were in charge of virtually the entire Dutch coastline: De Coninck and Pycke in Zeeland, De Stassart in South-Holland, and De Celles in North-Holland and the West Frisian Islands. Hardliners De Celles and De Stassart controlled the densely populated western parts of the Netherlands. Prefects of Dutch descent were generally not mobile; they seldom traveled further than two departments. Hultman was the exception to the rule, having a continuous and mobile Napoleonic career.

Prefects in the Northwest German departments originally came from ‘Old’ France and the former Southern Netherlands, except for ‘Dutch/Prussian/Rhenish’ Van/Von Keverberg. Prefects posted in Northwest Germany were rather mobile, having served throughout the Empire, specifically the French heartland. This difference between the Napoleonic officials in the Dutch departments and those in the German departments will become even more apparent in the next chapter on the subprefects.

Prefects of French descent in the Netherlands and Northwest Germany often continued their work in a post-Napoleonic French department, think of Frémin de Beaumont, Petit de Beauverger, and Le Tonnelier de Breteuil. Lippe’s prefect Lasteyrie du Saillant fled to France in late 1813. The sources are silent about what happened to him afterward, apart from his death in 1833 in Saint Rabier in the south of France, not far from his native soil. When the Cossacks advanced, Ems-Oriental’s prefect Jannesson did not manage to flee in time and was imprisoned. After the war, he went back to his properties in Alsace. But many French officials remained administratively active during the Restoration.Footnote 95

Prefects of Dutch descent often were appointed gouverneur in the newly established Kingdom of the Netherlands, or another administrative post. This was also the case for ‘well-liked’ Belgians, De Coninck and Pycke, who in the years after Waterloo became Dutch gouverneur in Antwerp, and Ghent respectively. Van Keverberg became gouverneur in Antwerp and Ghent, changing places with De Coninck and Pycke. The other Belgian prefects De Celles and De Stassart held no public offices until 1821. Briefly, during the Hundred Days, De Stassart was member of Napoleon’s Council of State. After 1821 both men became oppositional members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Estates-General. Both would play a leading role in the Belgian Revolt in 1830.

Napoleonic Prefects Compared

Stuart Woolf rightly noted that prefects have been ‘tools of conquest’, during Napoleon’s ‘integration of Europe’ (to again quote Woolf). Arguably, ‘tools of incorporation’ would have been an apt label. Following the phase of conquest, prefects embodied the pursuit of binding departments to the central state and had a pivotal function between the actual taking of a territory and more elaborate attempts at its integration. As the Empire expanded, talented young men were systematically trained to represent the state at subnational level. However, not only personal qualities played a role to obtain a prestigious post. A balance had to be sought between selecting the most competent persons and those who had the best contacts.

Across Europe, prefects encountered problems when the uniform Napoleonic system of territorial governance came into contact with local and regional governing practices. Prefects individually had to make assessments, which had repercussions on the effectiveness of the prefectoral system. While prefects did not take equal consideration of the wishes of all, they undeniably had a high degree of self-determination. The incorporation process therefore, to some extent, took existing situations into account. For pragmatic reasons, and a certain willingness to recognize regional diversity, boundaries of the Dutch departments largely followed traditional provincial and departmental borders. For example, Friesland (Frise) could retain its old name, and Zeeland, at the request of locals, was granted a department of its own (Bouches-de-l’Escaut). Likewise, the creation of the German Lippe department shows the preparedness to listen to local elites’ wishes. Strikingly, precisely in the ‘intermediate’ departments of Ems-Oriental and Lippe, feelings of regional uniqueness developed in opposition to the Dutch—within a French context.

A difference between the Netherlands and Northwest Germany was the novelty of Napoleonic territorial governance. During the Batavian Revolution, the Dutch had already become acquainted with ‘departments’ as replacements for the Provinces. And under Louis Bonaparte, the usefulness of a prefect-like character, in the form of the landdrost, was recognized. Many Dutch officials could therefore continue their work within the French state. Some Dutchmen were even considered competent enough to become prefect in France. Northwest Germans, in contrast, were never appointed to high posts in other parts of the Empire. Nor had Northwest Germany had precursors to the prefectoral system, apart from the ex-prefects from the Kingdom of Westphalia, and, to a much lesser extent, the Prussian Kriegs- und Domänenräte.

The Dutch prefectoral corps North of the Rhine, was a mixture of ‘Belgians’ and Dutchmen. Most of them, coming from the circles around Lebrun and his acquaintances, preferred a mild approach. De Stassart and De Celles were exceptions, but influential ones, who controlled the strategic and densely populated coastal departments. By contrast, prefects of Dutch origin—often former Orangists or former revolutionaries of moderate signature—developed various strategies to deal with their superiors. That Dutch prefects were outspoken, or were not Napoleon’s most ardent supporters, was not an insurmountable problem, but failing to carry out orders altogether was an issue. Less fervent prefects tried to keep different parties satisfied. Some of them faithfully followed the directives of Ministers, but did not do anything extra, whether or not without explicitly expressing their reservations. Others carried out instructions as they received them from higher up, but gave their own interpretation to them, in the hope of softening measures. Frequently, delays occurred in the execution of orders, or information flow from below. This could buy time for prefects to operate at their own discretion. Many native prefects emphasized, sometimes for years, the novelty of the French system, which would be the cause of inadequacies.

The prefects in Northwest Germany came predominantly Old France, except Fleming De Coninck and Van/Von Keverberg—the latter cannot be categorized as either ‘Belgian’, Dutch, or Prussian. And the more military character of the prefectoral corps of Northwest Germany stands out, compared to the predominantly civilian character of the Dutch prefects, both north and south of the Rhine. The controversy over the appointment of Ems-Oriental’s prefect (a Dutch-civil administrator or French-military one?) is exemplary. Strikingly, family relations played a more important role in Northwest Germany than in the Netherlands. Prefect were more often related, not seldom via their sisters, to other high officials: Petit de Beauverger to the Frochot family; Jannesson and Arberg to Generals like Mouton and Klein; Breteuil to Charles de Choiseul-Praslin. This was also apparent outside the prefectoral corps.

It seems the influence of the General-Government in Amsterdam on ‘its’ prefects was greater than Davout’s and De Chaban’s influence on prefects in Northwest Germany, much to the disappointment of Intendant De Chaban. In Amsterdam, given his position, Lebrun had no daily contact with prefects, yet he did occasionally intervene. Lebrun criticized prefects for their behavior when he believed prefects did not strictly abide the law, or when prefects’ behavior did not contribute to good governance—for example, when, in his eyes, they were too ambitious or too negative toward the Dutch. Intendant Dalphonse often entered into discussions with reluctant prefects, either French or Dutch. Dalphonse and Lebrun did not want to dictate the prefects’ entire behavior, but did expect prefects to do their utmost to find a middle way between introducing the French system and respecting Dutch traditions. In the last year of Napoleonic rule, when doubts about the docility of the North grew sharply, Paris increased the share of French prefects in the northern periphery.

In the post-Napoleonic period, former prefects continued their activities in France, the Netherlands or, later, Belgium. None of them pursued a career in a part of Northwest Germany. As for national(ist) remembrance, Dutch and German eye-witnesses who subsequently wrote about the prefects were often rather mild in their judgment. Frequently, they noted that prefects had had an eye for local needs, or at least had sought to leniently apply orders from above. Most chroniclers agreed that ‘it could have been a lot worse’, compared to the minority of zealous prefects. Prefects were generally not blamed for the excesses of the Napoleonic period, even though prefects were undeniably co-responsible for the implementation of detested measures like conscription.

In sum, in both regions a balance was sought between, on the one hand, firming imperial grip via the strict implementation of Napoleonic governance, and, on the other hand, entrusting authority to locals and respecting traditions. In the Northwest German case, the former approach prevailed, in the Netherlands the latter was more present. Despite these regional differences, the prefectoral system functioned for the most part, which confirms the image of prefects as tools of incorporation. This did not mean that Napoleonic measures could be introduced without question. To further explore the subtleties of Napoleonic governance, it is worthwhile zooming in on the arrondissements (districts), where subprefects were responsible for the integration process. These persons, as well as the difficulties they encountered, will be the focus of the next chapter.