William the Silent


William the Silent : biography

24 April 1533 – 10 July 1584

Between his first and second marriages, William had an extramarital affair with Eva Elincx. They had a son, Justinus van Nassau (1559–1631), whom William acknowledged.

Coats of Arms

William used two sets of arms in his lifetime. The first one shown below was his ancestral arms of Nassau. The second arms he used most of his life from the time he became Prince of Orange on the death of his cousin René of Châlon. He placed the arms of Châlon-Arlay as princes of Orange as an inescutcheon on his father’s arms. In 1582, William purchased the marquisate of Veere and Vlissingen in Zeeland. It had been the property of Philip II since 1567, but had fallen into arrears to the province. In 1580, the Court of Holland ordered it sold. William bought it as it gave him two more votes in the States of Zeeland. He owned the government of the two towns, and so could appoint their magistrates. He already had one as First Noble for Philip William, who had inherited Maartensdijk. This made William the predominant member of the States of Zeeland. It was a smaller version of the countship of Zeeland (and Holland) promised to William, and was a potent political base for his descendants. William then added the shield of Veere and Buren to his arms as shown in the third coat of arms below. It shows how arms were used to represent political power in general, and the growing political power of William.

File:Arms Nassau.png|Coat of arms of the House of Nassau (since the 13th century) FIle:Blason Nassau-Orange.svg|Coat of arms of William as Prince of Orange until 1582 File:Blason Nassau-Orange (Cadets).svg|The coat of arms used by William from 1582 on


The Catholic Frenchman Balthasar Gérard (born 1557) was a supporter of Philip II, and in his opinion, William of Orange had betrayed the Spanish king and the Catholic religion. After Philip II declared William an outlaw and promised a reward of 25,000 crowns for his assassination, and of which Gérard learned in 1581, he decided to travel to the Netherlands to kill William. He served in the army of the governor of Luxembourg, Peter Ernst I von Mansfeld-Vorderort, for two years, hoping to get close to William when the armies met. This never happened, and Gérard left the army in 1584. He went to the Duke of Parma to present his plans, but the Duke was unimpressed. In May 1584, he presented himself to William as a French nobleman, and gave him the seal of the Count of Mansfelt. This seal would allow forgeries of the messages of Mansfelt to be made. William sent Gérard back to France to pass the seal on to his French allies.

Gérard returned in July, having bought pistols on his return voyage. On 10 July, he made an appointment with William of Orange in his home in Delft, nowadays known as the Prinsenhof. That day, William was having dinner with his guest Rombertus van Uylenburgh. After William left the dining room and walked down-stairs, Van Uylenburgh heard Gérard shoot William in the chest at close range. Gérard fled to collect his reward.

According to official records,Minutes of the States-General of 10 July 1584, quoted in JW Berkelbach van der Sprenkel, De Vader des Vaderlands, Haarlem 1941, p. 29: "Ten desen daghe es geschiet de clachelycke moort van Zijne Excellentie, die tusschen den een ende twee uren na den noen es ghescoten met een pistolet gheladen met dry ballen, deur een genaempt Baltazar Geraert… Ende heeft Zijne Excellentie in het vallen gheroepen: Mijn God, ontfermpt U mijnder ende Uwer ermen ghemeynte (Mon Dieu ayez pitié de mon âme, mon Dieu, ayez pitié de ce pauvre peuple)". William’s last words are said to have been:Although commonly accepted, his last words might have been modified for propaganda purposes. See Charles Vergeer, "De laatste woorden van prins Willem", Maatstaf 28 (1981), no. 12, pp. 67–100. The debate has some history, with critics pointing to sources saying that William died immediately after having been shot and proponents stating that there would have been little opportunity to fabricate the words between the time of the assassination and the announcement of the murder to the States-General. Of the final words themselves, several slightly different versions are in circulation, the main differences being of style.