William III (1650-1702), Prince of Orange, King of England.

William began his life as an ordinary Dutch prince. History came to him in the form of a call from the English Parliament: the MPs of the time were highly frustrated at the attitude of King James II (William's father-in-law), a Catholic who tried to establish Catholic faith in the country. They begged William to help them unseat James, which he happily accepted, being an active supporter of Protestantism. Besides, he had already defeated James in 1673, after the English king had tried to invade the Netherlands with the help of Louis XIV. William's forces landed in November of 1688 and kicked James' royal bottom in no time. James, suddenly realizing that people did not like him very much, accepted his exile in France.

James made one attempt to regain the crown, with the help of France and Ireland - but their troops were thoroughly spanked at the Battle of the Boyne, ensuring total English control over Ireland in the process.

Now the Parliament decided to crown William (they had little choice, anyway), but they had learnt their lesson: in order to prevent any future trouble with the King (read: in order to lock up their supremacy over him), they passed a series of laws limiting his power and strengthening theirs, including the famous Bill of Rights. These laws definitely suppressed royal prerogatives and established Parliament (with support of the oligarchy) as the real centre of power.

William was a wise man and a good king, despite leading endless wars against France and Spain (the two major Catholic powers of the time). He died in 1702 from complications after being thrown from his horse. In fifty-two years of life, he had shaped Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and had prevented a French takeover of Europe. Not bad for an ordinary Dutch prince.

William of Orange, 1533-1584

Otherwise known as William the Silent, Orange was grandfather to the William of Orange of William and Mary and the Glorious Revolution. Orange is regarded by the Dutch today as the founding father of the Dutch republic and to many extents this is true. He began the revolt against Spanish rule in 1566 and it was his leadership that kept it alive.

However his motives were never originally to create a new state, merely to regain rights and privileges that had been taken away by Philip II. Some historians even question his motives to the extent of accusing him of blatant careerism and self-interest. While there is more to Orange that a selfish desire for advancement Orange's carefully calculated decisions always took into account his own personal position above all others.

In addition Orange never intended to found either a Calvinist state or a democratic one. As a member of the upper nobility (the Grandees) he had no desire to see any other group gain power. While he recognised the need to win over the town regents and lesser nobles he never intended to grant them any power. In addition Orange himself was a politique, he believed that religion was of lesser importance than the unity of the Netherlands. Orange believed that princes had no right to rule over 'the consciences of their subjects'. At the time this was a revolutionary idea and indeed even Orange was unable to put his ideology into practice.


One need not hope in order to undertake; nor succeed in order to persevere - William of Orange

1533 - Born
1544 - Inherits his cousin's lands of Orange on condition that he is brought up a Catholic
1555 - Charles V gives his abdication speech leaning on Orange and Orange is appointed Stadholder of Holland, Zealand and Utrecht.
1556 - Orange appointed to Council of State and Order of the Golden Fleece.
1561 - Marries Anne of Saxony and becomes a Lutheran.
1564 - Opposes heresy laws and Granvelle.
1566 - Plays no significant role in revolt, refusing to commit to either side.
1567 - Flees to exile in Orange.
1568 - Failed invasion of Netherlands.
1572 - Successful invasion of Netherlands.
1573 - Converts to Calvinism to retain support.
1576 - Pacification of Ghent.
1579 - Union of Utrecht
1581 - Act of Abjuration
1584 - Assassinated.

Born in 1533, in Dillenburg, near Wiesbaden, Germany, William of Nassau, Prince of Orange was the son of Protestant parents, William of Nassau (William the Rich) and Juliana of Stolberg. In 1544 René Chalon, Prince of Orange, died and his will passed his lands to his eleven year old cousin William of Nassau. Many raised objections as William's father, William the Rich, had implemented some protestant reforms in his territories. Charles V agreed to the inheritance on the basis that William was raised as a Catholic in Orange.

This early change of upbringing from the son of a prostentantising German princelet into a Catholic, French speaking Burgundian grand signeur was to have a profound effect upon the future of the Netherlands. Orange became a favourite of Charles V and having inherited the Nassau lands he was appointed Stadholder of Holland, Zealand and Utrecht by Charles V in 1555. Charles made his abdication speech whilst leaning on Orange's shoulder in 1555.

Orange continued his loyal service when Charles' son, Philip II, was appointed sovereign ruler of the Netherlands. In 1556, at the unprecedentedly young age of 23 Philip appointed Orange to the role of Councillor of State and he received the Order of the Golden Fleece, a prestigious title bestowed to the nobles who traditionally made up the sovereign's inner sanctum of advisors in the Netherlands.

While Orange and Philip did not get on, the personalities clashing from their first meeting, Orange did develop an extremely cordial relationship with Antoine Perrenot (later Cardinal Granvelle). Perrenot was Philip's closest advisor and Orange acquired many favours from him. However in 1559 Orange began to show his disagreement with some of the king's policies.

Thus began Orange's opposition to Philip II and Spain. Before breaking outright with Spain Orange managed to achieve some reforms:

1559 - Philip backed down over plans to appoint Spaniards to the Council of State and agreed to remove Spanish troops from the Netherlands.

1564 - Philip withdrew Granvelle from the Netherlands and abandoned his new bishopric scheme.

Orange then pressed for reform of the strong anti-heresy laws that had been devised by Charles V. The nobles managed to pressure Magaret of Parma, Philip's Governor General in the Netherlands, into agreeing to this. However in 1556 Philip sent a 10,000 troops and his finest general, the Duke of Alva (also spelt Alba) in response to letters from Margaret of Parma claiming that over 200,000 heretics were in open revolt against the crown. This was an absurd over estimate and by the time Alva had arrived the minor disturbances had been stopped.

Upon Alva's arrival Orange fled the Netherlands to Orange. When his previous allies, Egmont and Hornes, were both executed by Alva he decided not to return. Alva confiscated all of Orange's lands and so Orange had little choice left but to remain in exile and plan a revolt.

In 1568 Orange attempted an invasion of the Netherlands hoping for support from French Huguenots and German protestants. However help did not materialise from either and the invasion was a complete failure. It was after this failure that Orange became convinced of the need for foreign support for the revolt to succeed.

During the following years Orange used his considerable political skill to woo French and English support. The result was that by 1572 he had been promised full French intervention in the Netherlands to support his next invasion.

The invasion was a success, aided by the Sea Beggar's capture of numerous ports along the Baltic coast. However Alva managed to drive the rebels back into Holland. For four years the rebels seemed to be on the brink of defeat. Foreign support had dried up, the Spanish army was driving forwards and Philip was no longer distracted by the Turks. The only thing between the rebels and the sharp end of Alva's justice was Orange's genius. He managed to keep foreign support trickling in, mostly from the Elector Palatine, he united the many factions of the revolt in Holland and more importantly he used his defensive genius to keep Alva out.

He forced Alva into siege warfare and used the geography of the marshy, boggy Netherlands to his advantage. He relieved the sieges of Alkmaar and Leiden by flooding Spanish camps. It was Orange's perserverance that kept the revolt alive,

Point n'est espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer - William of Orange

Exert yourself to the utmost, however hopeless the situation, and persevere even when all attempts have been unsuccessful

Orange's greatest moment was the Pacification of Ghent. With this he managed to united the whole of the Netherlands, an achievement which had been Orange's ultimate goal. However the Pacification would only last three years. Philip's new Governor General, Allesandro Farnesi, Duke of Parma, proved to be a stronger adversary. He granted concessions to the Southern Catholic nobles and won them over.

Holland was divided, the South under the Union of Arras and the North under the Union of Utrecht both signed in 1579. For the next 5 years Parma would win back large parts of the Netherlands to Spanish rule and Orange's power began to dwindle.

On 10th July 1584 Orange was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic. He had survived previous assassination attempts but this proved one too many.

'My God have pity on my soul and these poor people' - William of Orange, 1584

Orange's death made him into a martyr and a hero, with his dwindling success if he had not had died perhaps he would have been remembered very differently. Nevertheless his contribution to the revolt of the Netherlands was astonishing. Without his leadership the revolt would surely have never survived.

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