William the Silent, Prince of Orange
|William the Silent Short Information Sheet:|
William I, Prince of Orange (Born: April 24, 1533. Died: July 10, 1584). Also known as William the Silent was born in the House of Nassau as a count of Nassau-Dillenburg.
He became Prince of Orange in 1544 and is thereby the founder of the branch House of Orange-Nassau.
William was the leader of the Dutch revolt against ruling King Philip II of Spain, a struggle that set off the Eighty Years' War and that resulted in the independence of the United Provinces of The Netherlands in 1648.
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William I, also named William the Silent, is seen as founder and liberator of The Netherlands. He was descended from a princely German family, that of Nassau, whose origin may be traced with certainty as far back as the 11th century. His ancestors had, as Dukes of Guelders, exercised sovereign rights in the Low Countries 400 years before the accession of the House of Burgundy, and had faithfully served the princes of that house.
Engelbert II was one of the lieutenants of Charles the Bold and of Maximilian; he left his possessions to his brother John, whose two sons, Henry and William of Nassau, divided the inheritance. William succeeded to the German lands and died young, leaving seven daughters and five sons. He was the father of William I, the descendant of his second son, John the Old, now occupies the throne of The Netherlands.
Henry, the elder brother of William of Nassau, who had received for his share the family estates in Luxemburg, Brabant, Flanders, and Holland, was tutor to Charles V, of whom he became afterwards the confidant. His son, Rene of Nassau-Chalons, was heir by his mother Claude of Chalons to his uncle Philibert of Orange, and thus inherited the little principality of Orange (in France), from which all his family took the historic name that it has ever since preserved. He had no children, and, dying at the Emperor's side in the trenches of Saint Dizier, left his great inheritance to his first cousin, William, who thus, at the age of 11 years, found himself heir to the wealth and power of his whole house.
He was educated at the court of Charles V, and, from the trust reposed in him by the Emperor and by Philip II, was early called to high commands and charged with important negotiations, and, being also Stadtholder of the provinces of Holland and Zealand, he seemed destined to lead a life of leisure, taking part in numerous fetes, and keeping open house in his splendid Nassau Palace at Brussels, where he displayed all the luxury of a splendid hospitality.
He was thus naturally placed at the head of the Netherlands nobility. Dissatisfied with the lack of political power for the local nobility in the Low Countries and the Spanish persecution of Dutch Protestants, William turned against his former master, the King of Spain, Philip II. He became one of the most prominent members of the opposition, together with Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn and Lamoral, Count of Egmont. They were mainly seeking more political power for the Dutch nobility, and complained that too many Spaniards were involved in governing the Netherlands.
There are several explanations for the origin of the name "William the Silent". One explanation is that he obtained the name of the Silent from the imperturbable calm with which he received the news of the projects for the extermination of the heretics, prematurely confided to him by Henry II of France. Brought up as both a Lutheran and later a Catholic, William was very religious but still a proponent of freedom of religion for all people. Determined to gain time before undertaking the defence of the inhabitants of the Low Countries, he waited to declare himself a Protestant until the measure of oppression was full: but having once given this irrevocable pledge of his devotion to the persecuted cause, he sacrificed to it repose, fortune, and life.
The lessons of courage and holiness that he had received from his mother, Juliana of Stolberg, had tempered his character, and armed his mind against all weakness; he was proof against all reverses. His proud motto, "Je maintiendrai" (French: "I will maintain,") became the cry of hope of a whole nation, and the "Wilhelmus", the "Song of William," originally written as a propaganda song by Marnix de Sainte-Aldegonde, a supporter of William of Orange. Later on the "Wilhelmus" became the national anthem.
But William I founded no dynasty. He refused the sovereignty offered to him by the seven provinces which had formed between them the Union of Utrecht, and only accepted full powers during the time of war. He remained the civil and military chief of a republic, and was surnamed the Father of his Country.
Surrounded by brothers as valiant as himself, three of whom met a glorious and premature death on the field of battle, like them he paid with his life's blood for the liberation of his country, and died by the shots of an assassin, on July 10, 1584.