Just like in other parts of Europe a number of people in the Dutch Republic wanted a more honest government and a more equal society. Society became divided between the Orangists, who supported stadtholder William V, Prince of Orange, and the Patriots who, under influence of the American Revolution and the ideas of the Enlightenment, wanted a more democratic government.
The country found itself in a deep economic crisis, caused by the British declaration of war following Dutch recognition of the American independence. The Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784) was devastating to Dutch trade and industry.
In 1786 and 1787 the situation escalated. The Patriots, who wanted to recreate the successes of the Dutch Golden Age, founded "Rifler's societies" ("schuttersgenootschappen"), small groups of men who practised firing rifles.
Between 1783 and 1787 these armed civilians managed to take over several cities and regions. In 1785 the stadtholder William V, Prince of Orange left the west of the country for Nijmegen in the east, as the States of Holland were not willing to send their troops to fight the Patriots. Only after William's brother-in-law, the king of Prussia, sent an army of 26.000 men to the republic, the authority of the stadtholder was restored.
But the restoration was only temporary. The Patriots continued their activities, be it in secret meetings or as political refugees in Northern France. In 1789 the French revolution had started, and the French were determined to spread this revolution over the rest of Europe.
In late December 1794, French and Dutch Patriot troops under general Charles Pichegru marched across the frozen rivers of the Republic. The Patriots knew this was the moment of truth, and they proclaimed the Batavian Republic. William V fled to England where he proclaimed that all Dutch colonies were to fall under British rule as they had declared war on the Batavian Republic. A number of these colonies never returned to Dutch rule such as Sri Lanka and South Africa.
Several coups followed in 1798, 1801 and 1805 which brought different groups of Patriots to power. The last ruler of the Batavian Republic was Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck.