William the Silent

(William of Orange)


William the Silent is the Protestant Hero of the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish crown, and one of the most revered figures in Protestantism. Born in Germany, he inherited properties in the Netherlands, and was an important leader during the governorship of Margaret of Parma. Philosophically, he believed in the idea of religious freedom and sympathized with the Calvinist movements in France and the Netherlands, but was not at first, a Calvinist. He initially voiced objections to the inquisition, the quartering of Spanish troops in the Netherlands, and the infringments of the traditional rights of the provinces, as a loyal Catholic, hoping only to right wrongs, rather than break away from Spain.

Philip II came to power during a period when Protestantism was spreading throughout Northern Europe. He saw it as a politcal issue as well as a religious one, because in every state in which Protestantism had gained a foothold, political loyalties were threatened. Philip's father had taken a tolerant approach to the problem, since he perceived his main enemies as the Ottomans Turks and Catholic France. Philip, however, took a much more draconian approach. At first he authorized one of his ministers to use the inquisition to root out heresy. When that failed, and a wave of destruction by Calvinist iconoclasts rocked the region, Philip II sent his trusted general the Duke of Alva to punish the offenders. William, who was already out of favor with Philip, left the country, and aided a Huguenot rebellion, which was quickly put down by Alva. In response to the disturbance, two popular Catholic Counts were tried for treason and executed. William would certainly have been among them if he had remained in the country.

The harshness with which Alva ruled enraged a great part of the population, even many loyal Catholics. Eventually, a band of Calvinist pirates took the town of Brielle, and in a short time a great many cities opened their doors to the rebels. William and his brothers led an army against the Spanish government, hoping for help from the French Hugunots, but it was not forthcoming. Alva attacked many of the rebel towns and brought most of them back to submission. Two of William's brothers were killed in the resulting battles. Alva was by now so widely hated that he was recalled by Philip II.

Shortly after this, William officially adopted Calvinism. He had worked to reconcile the various factions, but most of the Netherland Catholics were unwilling to take arms against the Spanish King, although they abhorred his policies. Upon his conversion he divorced his wife, and married a lapsed nun.

The following years saw continued fighting, but also a considerable amount of negotiation. Although William tried to keep all of the Netherland provinces together in a Union, the Southern provinces made a separate peace and agreed to accept Alexander Farnese as their governor. The battles settled down for a short time after this, as Farnese needed to turn his attention to matters in Portugal and France.

During the lull in hostilites, William succeeded in convincing the Duke of Anjou to become the sovereign of the Northern states, but after a short time, the Duke abandoned his post. At that point the Northern provinces declared themselves a republic, and William served as the Statholder. Alexander Farnese returned to the region, and began to to campaign against the rebels. But just at this time, William, who had been declared a public enemy by Philip II, was assassinated by a Frenchman. His son Maurice continued in his stead.

Key events during the life of William the Silent:

William is born as the eldest son of the Count of Nassau in Germany.
William inherits title Prince of Orange from his cousin, on condition that he become Catholic.
Philip II departs from the Netherlands; appoints Margaret of Parma governor.
Granvelle implements the Spanish inquisition in the Netherlands.
Marries the wealthy Anna of Saxony; they have five children.
Granvelle retires from the Netherlans
A wave of Calvinist iconoclasm sweeps through
Duke of Alva is sent to Govern the Netherlands; William the Silent retires to Nassau.
One of William's brother's is killed in early battles against Alva.
Hoorn and Egmond executed by Alva.
Band of Calvinist "beggers" seizes the town of Brielle. Other towns open doors to the rebels.
William selected 'Statholder' of rebel provinces.
St. Bartholomew's Day massacre destroyed William's hope for help from the French Huguenots.
Spanish attack rebel cities, including Zutphen and Haarlem; Alva is replaced by Requesens.
Two more of William's brothers are killed at the Battle of Mookerheyde.
William adopts Calvinism; annuls marriage to Anne of Saxony, and weds Charlotte, a French nun.
Renquesens dies; Spanish soldiers mutiny and sack Antwerp.
Don John of Austria is appointed governor and attempts to negotiate with the rebels.
William attempts to negotiate terms of a peace treaty.
Southern provinces make peace with Spain and accept Alexander Farneses as governor.
Norhern provinces sign the Union of Utretch.
Duke of Anjou agress to be sovereign of Netherlands. Declaration of Independence signed.
William is widowed and marries Louise, a daughter of Gaspard de Coligny.
William is assassinated by a Catholic Frenchman.

Book Links
William of Orange  by  George Upton

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Beggars Fight for their Rights  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
William the Silent, 1533-1584 in  Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages  by  George Hodges
Granvelle and Orange  in  The Netherlands  by  Mary Macgregor
Beggars of the Sea  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge
William the Silent  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

William the Silent
 in Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages

Philip II threatens William of Orange
 in Greatest Nations - Netherlands

Death of William the Silent
 in Greatest Nations - Netherlands

'No, not the estates, but you, you, you.'
 in The Netherlands

Mounting his horse, he rode quietly and unattended to the Red Gate
 in The Netherlands

The Prince of Orange knew no greater moment than this
 in The Netherlands

As he fell the Prince cried out, 'O my God, have mercy upon my soul!'
 in The Netherlands

William of Orange pledges his jewles for the defense of his country.
 in European Hero Stories

William of Orange.
 in  William of Orange

The warning of Egmont.
 in  William of Orange

The assassination of William of Orange.
 in  William of Orange

Short Biography
Margaret of Parma Half-sister of Philip II of Spain who governed the Netherlands in the early years of the Dutch revolt.
Cardinal Granvelle Dutch Cardinal who implemented the Spanish Inquisition in the Dutch Netherlands.
Count Hoorn Admiral of the Dutch Navy. With Egmont, protested Inquisition and was beheaded.
Philip II Catholic king of Spain during Netherland revolt and Anglo-Spanish Wars. Great enemy of Protestant Reformers.
Alexander Farnese Nephew of Philip III, who governed the Netherlands in the later years of the Dutch revolt.
Duke of Alva Tyrannical Governor of the Spanish Netherlands who opposed Protestants during the Dutch Revolt.
Gaspard de Coligny French protestant military hero who was assassinated at the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.