William, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg, Prince of Orange by Anthonis Mor van Dashorst (1555)
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 his armies.

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 eloquent.

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 of Nassau-Dillenburg.

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 different religions.
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.
Castle Dillenburg
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
William assassinated
The assassination of William of Orange
Importance of William of Orange
René de Châlon (1519 - 1544)