JOHN WILLIAM RIPPERDA, Baron, and afterwards duke of (1680-1737), political adventurer and Spanish minister, was a native of Groningen in the Netherlands. According to a story which he himself set going during his adventures in Spain, his family was of Spanish origin. But there does not appear to be any foundation for this assertion. The name was not uncommon in Groningen, and was borne by several persons of some note in the 16th and 17th centuries, one of whom was a follower of William the Silent. They were people of some position, possessing "lordships" at Jansinia, Poelgast, and other places, and some at least of them were Roman Catholics. John William, if he was, as he asserted, born a Roman Catholic, conformed to Dutch Calvinism in order to obtain his election as delegate to the states-general from Groningen. In 1715 he was sent by the Dutch government as ambassador to Madrid. Saint-Simon says that his character for probity was even then considered doubtful. The fortune of Orry, Alberoni and other foreigners in Spain, showed that the court of Philip V. offered a career to adventurers. Ripperda - whose name is commonly spelt Riperda by the Spaniards - devoted himself to the Spanish government, and professed himself a Roman Catholic. He first attached himself to Alberoni, and after the fall of that minister he became the agent of Elizabeth Farnese, the restless and intriguing wife of Philip V. Though perfectly unscrupulous in money matters, and of a singularly vain and blustering disposition, he did understand commercial questions, and he has the merit of having pointed out that the poverty of Spain was mainly due to the neglect of its agriculture. But his fortune was not due to any service of a useful kind he rendered his masters. He rose by undertaking to aid the queen, whose influence over her husband was boundless, in her schemes for securing the succession to Parma, Plasencia and Tuscany for her sons. Ripperda was sent as special envoy to Vienna in 1725. He behaved with ridiculous violence, but the Austrian government, which was under the influence of its own fixed idea, treated him seriously. The result of ten months of very strange diplomacy was a treaty by which the emperor promised very little, but and shares to be sold at $25; (2) land to be limited to 40 acres for each member of the corporation; (3) a unanimous vote of the managers necessary for admission; (4) an annual settlement of profits on the basis of one-quarter credit to dividend on stock, and three-quarters credit to labour; (5) free public schools, capital paying three-quarters and labour one-quarter of cost; and (6) complete religious toleration and no involuntary taxation for church support.
Spain was bound to pay heavy subsidies, which its exhausted treasury was quite unable to afford. The emperor hoped to obtain money. Elizabeth Farnese hoped to secure the Italian duchies for her sons, and some vague stipulations were made that Charles VI. should give his aid for the recovery by Spain of Gibraltar and Minorca. When Ripperda returned to Madrid at the close of 1725 he asserted that the emperor expected him to be made prime minister. The Spanish sovereigns, who were overawed by this quite unfounded assertion, allowed him to grasp the most important posts under the crown. He excited the violent hostility of the Spaniards, and entered into a complication of intrigues with the French and English governments. His career was short. In 1726 the Austrian envoy, who had vainly pressed for the payment of the promised subsidies, came to an explanation with the Spanish sovereigns. It was discovered that Ripperda had not only made promises that he was not authorized to make, but had misappropriated large sums of money. The sovereigns who had made him duke and grandee shrank from covering themselves with ridicule by revealing the way in which they had been deceived. Ripperda was dismissed with the promise of a pension. Being in terror of the hatred of the Spaniards, he took refuge in the English embassy. To secure the favour of the English envoy, Colonel William Stanhope, afterwards Lord Harrington, he betrayed the secrets of his government. Stanhope could not protect him, and he was sent as a prisoner to the castle of Segovia. In 1728 he escaped, probably with the connivance of the government, and made his way to Holland. His last years are obscure. It is said that he reverted to Protestantism, and then went to Morocco, where he became a Mahommedan and commanded the Moors in an unsuccessful attack on Ceuta. But this story is founded on his so-called Memoirs, which are in fact a Grubstreet tale of adventure published at Amsterdam in 1740. All that is really known is that he did go to Morocco, and that he died at Tetuan in 1737.
See Arnold Ritter von Arneth, Prinz Eugen von Savoyen (Vienna, 1864), for the negotiations of 1725, and Gabriel Syveton, Une Cour et un aventurier au X VIII' siecle (Paris, 1896). His Memoirs were translated into English by J. Campbell, London, 1750.
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