William the Silent

William the Silent bigraphy, stories - Leader of the Dutch revolt in the Eighty Years' War and Prince of Orange (1544–1584)

William the Silent : biography

24 April 1533 – 10 July 1584

William I, Prince of Orange (24 April 1533 – 10 July 1584), also widely known as William the Silent (), or simply William of Orange (), was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish that set off the Eighty Years’ War and resulted in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1648. He was born in the House of Nassau as Count of Nassau-Dillenburg. He became Prince of Orange in 1544 and is thereby the founder of the branch House of Orange-Nassau and the ancestor of the monarchy of the Netherlands.

A wealthy nobleman, William originally served the Habsburgs as a member of the court of Margaret of Parma, governor of the Spanish Netherlands. Unhappy with the centralisation of political power away from the local estates and with the Spanish persecution of Dutch Protestants, William joined the Dutch uprising and turned against his former masters. The most influential and politically capable of the rebels, he led the Dutch to several successes in the fight against the Spanish. Declared an outlaw by the Spanish king in 1580, he was assassinated by Balthasar Gérard (also written as "Gerardts") in Delft four years later (1584).


From politician to rebel

Although he never directly opposed the Spanish king, William soon became one of the most prominent members of the opposition in the Council of State, together with Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn, and Lamoral, Count of Egmont. They were mainly seeking more political power for themselves against the de facto government of Count Berlaymont, Granvelle and Viglius of Aytta, but also for the Dutch nobility and, ostensibly, for the Estates, and complained that too many Spaniards were involved in governing the Netherlands. William was also dissatisfied with the increasing persecution of Protestants in the Netherlands. Brought up as a Lutheran and later a Catholic, William was very religious but was still a proponent of freedom of religion for all people. The inquisition policy in the Netherlands, carried out by Cardinal Granvelle, prime minister to the new governor Margaret of Parma (1522–83) (natural half-sister to Philip II), increased opposition to Spanish rule among the – then mostly Catholic – population of the Netherlands. Lastly, the members of the opposition wished to see an end to the presence of Spanish troops.

On 25 August 1561, William of Orange married for the second time. His new wife, Anna of Saxony, was described by contemporaries as "self-absorbed, weak, assertive, and cruel",Wedgwood (1944) p. 50. and it is generally assumed that William married her to gain more influence in Saxony, Hesse and the Palatinate.Wedgwood (1944) p. 49. The couple had five children.

Up to 1564, any criticism of governmental measures voiced by William and the other members of the opposition had ostensibly been directed at Granvelle; however, after the latter’s departure early that year, William, who may have found increasing confidence in his alliance with the Protestant princes of Germany following his second marriage,Herman Kaptein, De Beeldenstorm (2002), 22 began to openly criticize the King’s anti-Protestant politics. In an iconic speech to the Council of State, William to the shock of his audience motivated his conflict with King Philip II by saying that, even though he had decided for himself to keep to the Catholic faith, he could not approve that monarchs should desire to rule over the souls of their subjects and take away from them their freedom of belief and religion."Et quamquam ipse Catholicae Religioni adhaerere constituerit, non posse tamen ei placere, velle Principes animis hominum imperare, libertatemque Fidei & Religionis ipsis adimere." C.P. Hoynck van Papendrecht, Vita Viglii ab Aytta, in Analecta belgica I, 41–42 (F. Postma, "Prefigurations of the future? The views on the boundaries of Church and State of William of Orange and Viglius van Aytta (1565–1566)", in A.A. McDonald and A.H. Huussen (eds.), Scholarly environments: centres of learning and institutional contexts, 1560–1960 (2004), 15–32, esp. 15).