William, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg, Prince of Orange by Anthonis Mor van
Crest of William of Orange
After Charles V died in 1558, his only son
Philip became the new king and the most
powerful man in Europe.
In the Low Countries (Holland and Belgium),
Protestantism already had many followers,
which was unacceptable for Philip II, who
was a fanatic Roman-Catholic.
Till then, Charles V was not happy with the
growing Protestantism, but he allowed it.
Philip didn't and initiated his own crusade
against the 'heretics'.
His tiranny involved inquisition,
prosecutions, torture and even executions.
The Dutch not only had trouble with the ban
on their religion but also with the increasing
taxes and the way their lands were ruled.
The Dutch rose up against Philip.
William, who grew up with Philip at the court
in Brussels, tried to reason with the new
monarch, but accomplished nothing.
Together with other nobelmen from Holland,
mercenaries and militia, William started to
revolt against the Spanish regime. This revolt
would last 80 years (1568 - 1648) with an
armistice of 12 years (1609 - 1621).
The first two decades of the conflict were
discouraging for the Dutch. The turning point
came around 1590, as Spain had to fight at
two fronts (war with the Ottoman Empire),
the swift expansion of the Dutch war fleet
and the excellent leadership of William's son,
Prince Maurits of Orange.
The young Dutch Republic developed into a
world power at political, military,
economical, scientific and cultural levels.
Spain was finally beaten and 'The Golden
Age' had already begun.
Nobleman William, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg,
inhereted the principality of Orange, a regional
enclave in Northern France at the age of 11 from his
cousin René de Châlon, who died in 1544 and had
stated in his will that William would be his successor.
With the title came a substancial amount of money.
Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire
conceded on the condition that William would receive
a Catholic upbringing at his court in Brussels. As
William's parents had financial problems they gave in
to the demands of the Emperor.
At Charles's court, William tutored in language and
diplomacy. The Emperor also recognized his military
talents and promoted William to commander in one of
Because of his diplomatic skills, he was appointed a
member of the "Raad van State" (State Counsel), at that
time the highest political office of Holland.
Till today there is debate and doubt
whether or not William, and if so why,
he was called "The Silent'.
Most historians refute the name as the
prince was very talkative and very
They argue that the name would be, in
his case, very inappropriate.
Nevertheless, in documents and
manuscripts before the 1700's the
nickname is frequently used.
Others say that he earned the
nickname because he never showed
his real feelings in debates.
William was born into nobility in Germany on April 24th, 1533 at castle Dillenburg in the town of Dillenburg,
to father William I, 'William the Rich', Count of Nassau-Dillenburg and mother Juliana of Stolberg, Countess
He was their first child, although his father had a daughter from a previous marriiage, while his mother had
four children before she married his father.
After William, the marriage produced seven daughters and four sons. William received a Lutheran Protestant
upbringing as his mother was a convinced Protestant.
William of Orange is a very important person in Holland's culture and history. He
earned the term of endearment "The Father of the Fatherland" after he led the revolt
against Philip II of Spain, which eventually resulted in an independent 'Republic of
the Seven United Netherlands' (Peace Treaty of Münster, 1648). The revolt is
referred to as the 'Dutch Revolt' or 'Eighty Years' War'.
Holland's national anthem, the "Wilhelmus" is about the struggle of William, who
wanted to remain loyal to the Spanish crown but on the other hand felt obliged to
defend and protect the Dutch.
To the Dutch, William is a symbol of liberalism and tolerance towards aliens and
Politicians are exposed to danger and William of Orange was no exception. The first
attempt to kill William was made on March 18, 1582 by Jean de Jaureguy, who
entered the dining room of the castle in Antwerp where he found William and shot him
in the neck.
The bullet didn't kill the victim and William managed to recover, thanks to the fact that
no vital parts were hit and to the dedication of his wife, Charlotte de Bourbon, who
spent so much energy and time to nurse him, neglecting her own health so, that she died
the same year.
Jean, however, was killed at the spot by William's knights.
The second attempt was on July 10th, 1584 in the city of Delft, when William just left a meeting and climbed
the stairs. Balthasar Gérards had two pistols, one to kill William and one to cover his retreat. He fired both
pistols and William was fatally wounded.
Just before he died, he managed to say his last words: "Mon Dieu, ayez pitié de moi et de mon pauvre
peuple". (My God, have mercy on me and on my poor people).
Gérards tried to escape but tripped and fell over a pile of rubbish. William's guards captured him and, after a
harsh beating, dragged him back inside.
After a brutal questioning and later torturing to find out who was behind the killing, Gérards was publicly
executed on July 15, 1584. His execution was, even for that time, exceptionally brutal.
The city of Dillenburg in Germany. In the background the castle of Dillenburg where William of Orange was born (picture by Oliver Abels )
William becomes a prince...
...and a politician
Willem de Zwijger
(William 'The Silent')
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1500 - 1558)
The Dutch Revolt or 'The
80 Years War'
Philip II of Spain (1527 - 1598)
William of Orange by Hendrik Bary
First murder attempt
The assassination of William of Orange
Importance of William of Orange
René de Châlon (1519 - 1544)
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