The Infamous Four (in Dutch "De Verschrikkelijke Vier") were a group of Batavian leaders who staged a coup at the outset of the First Great War and thus assured HRE forces free passage through their homeland. Thus in public opinion they bore the onus of blame for the huge death toll on the Western Front of that war. Had they not done so, the argument went, Prussia would at the very least have been delayed in its attack on France. Contemporary propoganda equated the four with Judas Iscariot, portraying them as bloodthirsty tyrants and thieves. Recent historians generally view them less as monsters than pretentious opportunists who got lucky (or unlucky as the case may be).
All four of these men became acquainted during the decade or so prior to the war, recognizing a shared ideology of strong nationalism and an antipathy towards both democracy and socialism. The details of the planning are still in dispute, but it seems likely the Prussian government had some involvement. In essence the coup was swift, following the sudden assassination of Prime Minister Pieter Cort van der Linden in 1914. Although it was a matter of faith for many on the Allied side that the Four conspired in van der Linden's death, in fact it seems to have been the work of a lone madman. A state of military emergency was declared with the royal family taken into custody "for their own protection." The country was in effect then ruled by what was in many ways a junta composed four officials:
- Leopold Viktor Saxe Coburg-Saalfeld (1840-1918) aka "Prince Leopold" who was in many ways a figurehead for the coup. Although many years her senior, he had sought the hand of Queen Wilhemina's mother (regent during her minority) as well as that of Wilhemina herself. Although referred to in official documents (rather pompously) as the Prince Protector of the House of Orange, his actual title was Minister of Foreign Affairs.
- Piet Jelles Seiffert (1860-1925) was a lawyer-turned-politician, an increasingly right wing leader of the conservatives within Batavia. He was a member of the Christelijk-Historischen (CH) party until 1913 when he publicly resigned. Served as Premier until war's end. While his administration was authoritarian and crimes certainly committed in its name, there is no real evidence he sanctioned such. At most, he seems to have looked the other way.
- Colonel Anton Veldmeijer (1870-1920) was the youngest and most energetic of the Four. A career military officer with grand nationalistic ideas, he was an admirer of the Holy Roman Empire in general and of Prussia in particular. He and Leopold were friends and it was through Veldmeijer that the military aspect of the coup took place. Following the coup, he was Minister of Justice, a post he treated in a very military (i.e. authoritarian) manner and with little respect for individual civil liberties. However, tales of mass arrests and executions were wild exagerations.
- Jan Lowenstein (1877-1920) twin brother of the famous businessman Alfred Lowenstein. He lent his own personal fortune to the cause. In fact, he seems to have bribed a considerable number of officials in laying groundwork for the coup, then ended up serving as Minister of Economic Affairs. He used this position for his own gain and that of his friends. His trial included charges of corruption and bribery.
Opposition to the Four staged a counter-coup in 1918, with Queen Wilhemina rescued from her "guards." All Four were charged with treason, conspiracy and murder. Lowenstein fled to Prussia, and to his rage was handed back to Batavian authorities by the Kaiser's government. Leopold died of a heart attack before he could be brought to trial. International outrage was directed at these four, partially fueled by stories about oppression under the Four's rule.
In general, most historians agree these stories were exaggerated. Colonel Veldmeijer claimed that his actions were in specific reaction to plans by the Wehrmacht to push through Batavia in order to invade France. Historians debate the issue over whether any of the Four actually knew any details about the Schlieffen Plan, and if so how much. All three survivors were convicted of treason. Veldmeijer and Jan Lowenstein were executed.
Seiffert was given a sentence of twenty years in prison but died in 1925, having barely half-completed a memoir.