William the Silent

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William the Silent : biography

24 April 1533 – 10 July 1584

Gérard was caught before he could flee Delft, and imprisoned. He was tortured before his trial on 13 July, where he was sentenced to be brutally – even by the standards of that time – killed. The magistrates decreed that the right hand of Gérard should be burned off with a red-hot iron, that his flesh should be torn from his bones with pincers in six different places, that he should be quartered and disembowelled alive, that his heart should be torn from his bosom and flung in his face, and that, finally, his head should be cut off.

Traditionally, members of the Nassau family were buried in Breda, but as that city was in Spanish hands when William died, he was buried in the New Church in Delft. His monument on his tomb was originally very modest, but it was replaced in 1623 by a new one, made by Hendrik de Keyser and his son Pieter. Since then, most of the members of the House of Orange-Nassau, including all Dutch monarchs have been buried in the same church. His great-grandson William the third, King of England and Scotland and Stadtholder in the Netherlands, was buried in Westminster Abbey

According to a British historian of science Lisa Jardine, he is reputed to be the first world head of state to be assassinated by handgun. The Scottish Regent Moray had been shot 13 years earlier, being the first recorded firearm assassination.

Early life

William was born on 24 April 1533 in the castle of Dillenburg in the duchy of Nassau in the Holy Roman Empire, now in Hesse, Germany. He was the eldest son of William, Count of Nassau, and Juliana of Stolberg-Werningerode, and was raised a Lutheran. He had four younger brothers and seven younger sisters: John, Hermanna, Louis, Maria, Anna, Elisabeth, Katharine, Juliane, Magdalene, Adolf and Henry.

When his cousin, René of Châlon, Prince of Orange, died childless in 1544, the eleven-year-old William inherited all Châlon’s property, including the title Prince of Orange, on the condition that he receive a Roman Catholic education. This was the founding of the house of Orange-Nassau. Besides Châlon’s properties, he also inherited vast estates in the Low Countries (present-day Netherlands and Belgium). Because of his young age, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V served as the regent of the principality until William was fit to rule. William was sent to the Netherlands to receive the required education, first at the family’s estate in Breda, later in Brussels under the supervision of Mary of Habsburg (Mary of Hungary), the sister of Charles V and governor of the Habsburg Netherlands (Seventeen Provinces). In Brussels, he was taught foreign languages and received a military and diplomatic educationWedgwood (1944) p. 29. under the direction of Champagney (Jérôme Perrenot), brother of Granvelle.

On 6 July 1551, he married Anna van Egmond en Buren, the wealthy heir to the lands of her father, and William gained the titles Lord of Egmond and Count of Buren. They had three children. Later that same year, William was appointed captain in the cavalry. Favoured by Charles V, he was rapidly promoted, and became commander of one of the Emperor’s armies at the age of 22. He was made a member of the Raad van State, the highest political advisory council in the Netherlands.As of 1549, the Low Countries, also known as the "Seventeen Provinces" comprised the present-day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of northern France. It was in November 1555, shortly after Charles had abdicated in favour of his son, Philip II of Spain that the gout-afflicted Emperor leaned on William’s shoulder during his abdication ceremony.J. Thorold Rogers, The Story of Nations: Holland. London, 1889; Romein, J., and Romein-Verschoor, A. . Amsterdam 1938–1940, p. 150. (Dutch, at ).

His wife Anna died on 24 March 1558. Later, William had a brief relationship with Eva Elincx, leading to the birth of their illegitimate son, Justinus van Nassau:"Justinus of Nassau is the son, probably born in September 1559, of the Prince and Eva Elinx, who, according to some, was the daughter of a mayor of Emmerich." ( P.J. Meertens, N.B. Tenhaeff and A. Komter-Kuipers (eds.). Wereldbibliotheek, Amsterdam 1942; p. 148, note. (Dutch, on DBNL))."…our son Justin van Nassau" in letter from William of Orange to Diederik Sonoy dated 16 July 1582, facsimile at William officially recognised him and took responsibility for his education – Justinus would become an admiral in his later years.

In 1559, Philip appointed William as the stadtholder (governor) of the provinces Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, thereby greatly increasing his political power.Wedgwood (1944) p. 34. A stadtholdership over Franche-Comté followed in 1561.