William of Orange

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William of Orange, William I, called "The Silent" (1533-1584)



William was born in Dillenburg, Germany, the son of William, count of Nassau. He was raised as a Lutheran until the age of 11, when he inherited considerable territory, including the French principality of Orange. The Holy Roman emperor Charles V then insisted that he be educated at the imperial court and convert to Roman Catholicism. In 1555 Philip II, son and successor of Charles V as king of Spain, made William stadtholder of the Dutch provinces of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht. The same year William succeeded his father as count of Nassau.

Under Philip, Spanish imperial rule in the Netherlands was harsh and intolerant, especially toward Protestants, who were persecuted by the Inquisition. William and other members of the Dutch nobility organized a strong movement against Spanish oppression, with the result that in 1564 Philip was forced to recall the hated Netherlands prime minister, Antoine Perrenot Cardinal de Granvelle. Three years later, however, Philip, alarmed by a widespread Dutch rebellion, sent Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, duke of Alva, and an army to the Netherlands with instructions to stamp out all civil and religious dissent. William was forced to flee to Germany. Alva ordered William to appear before the inquisitorial council and, when William ignored the order, seized his Dutch properties.


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  Prince William I of Orange on a stamp from
the Dutch East Indies, emission of 1933,
400 years after William's birth.
William as a young army man William of Orange on stained glass window
in the Gouda Church to remind
the Siege of Leiden at 3 october 1574.
  William assembled an invasion army, and in 1568 he entered the Netherlands, where he was soon defeated because the Dutch failed to support him. The rebellion gradually grew stronger, however, and in 1572 the northern Dutch provinces of Holland and Zeeland revolted successfully against the Spanish and elected William, who had become a Calvinist, as their stadtholder.
After several more years of bitter fighting, 16 of the 17 provinces united against Spain under the terms of the so-called Pacification of Ghent, signed on November 8, 1576. Powerful imperial forces soon reconquered the five southern provinces that constitute present-day
Belgium, but in 1579 the northern provinces, with William as leader, formed the Union of Utrecht, an alliance against Spain.
Five years later, William was killed by an assassin, called Balthasar Gerards.
He was succeeded as stadtholder by his son Maurice of Nassau.

The murder of William at Delft by Balthasar Gerards
The assassination


  The holes in the wall as a result of the assassination (Delft). Grave of William of Orange in Nieuwe Kerk Delft.  
  William was one of the great patriots of Dutch history. He gave his fortune and his life to the cause of Dutch independence and religious freedom. Although he was unable to unite the Netherlands provinces, the Union of Utrecht became the nucleus of the present Dutch nation.  

(All above text from MS-Encarta 98 Encyclopedia)



Why do we speak about Dutch Orange? Click here for an explanation