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In the beginning: The House of Orange-Nassau

This edition of “In the beginning” focuses on the House of Orange-Nassau and both the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg fall under this dynasty.

William I, Prince of Orange was the founder of the House of Orange-Nassau when, in 1544, he became the Prince of Orange after being born into the House of Nassau. William, often referred to as William the Silent was named the heir to his uncle, René of Châlon, Prince of Orange’s estate and titles. However, René had it written that 11-year-old William must receive a Roman Catholic education. William’s father agreed to this, and William was sent to the Netherlands for his Catholic education. Thus, the Houses of Orange and Nassau were combined to create what is now known as the House of Orange-Nassau.

Portrait of William I, the Silent, Prince of Orange. Bust, facing right. Several versions of this portrait exist, three of which are believed to be authentic. Of these the version at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is dated 1579. Portrait: Adriaen Thomas (Public Domain) Purchased by the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam with support by the Commissie voor de Willem de Zwijgertentoonstelling via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of William I, the Silent, Prince of Orange. Bust, facing right. Several versions of this portrait exist, three of which are believed to be authentic. Of these, the version at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is dated 1579. Portrait: Adriaen Thomas (Public Domain) Purchased by the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam with support by the Commissie Voor de Willem de Zwijgertentoonstelling via Wikimedia Commons

William would go on to lead the revolt by the Dutch against the Spanish rule during the Eighty Years’ War. The Eighty Years’ War, or Dutch War of Independence, had the Seventeen Provinces consisting of modern-day Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, and parts of France fighting against the reign of Philip II of Spain.

The Dutch were very unhappy with the high rate of taxation the Spanish crown imposed on them. The Seventeen Provinces were also required to ask for permission from the crown for their actions. Moreover, Philip had Spanish troops stationed in the area, much to their dismay, to ensure the Dutch followed the laws. Then, the Spanish Inquisition attempted to force Catholicism on the more Protestant-leaning Dutch citizens. All while the Protestant Reformation was occurring around the same time. Philip saw William as a threat to his rule, and therefore, he hired an assassin to kill him in 1584.

After the war, the four rebellious provinces became the Dutch Republic and were governed for a number of years by Counts of Nassau and Princes of Orange. By the 18th century, the area was under the governorship of less than effective leaders from the Orange ‘party’, which consisted of orthodox Calvinist leaders, different nobles, craft workers, and peasants. The Dutch Republic would collapse in 1795, and the last of the governors fled to England.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands was established in 1815 with King William I, from the House of Orange-Nassau, as monarch. He was also named Grand Duke of Luxembourg. William I abdicated in favour of his son in October 1840. William II then became King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg. His reign was one that saw fiscal stability in the Netherlands. More, the monarchy became more liberal with the establishment of the constitution in 1848.

William III began his reign upon the death of his father in 1849. He married Sophie of Württemberg with whom he had three sons: William, Prince of Orange, Prince Maurice of the Netherlands, and Alexander, Prince of Orange. Tragically, all three of William’s sons preceded him in death, as did his wife Sophie. William married again, this time to Emma of Waldeck-Pyrmont. Together, they had one daughter: Wilhelmina. 

Wilhelmina was the sole heir to the throne when her father passed in 1890. At the time, she was not yet eighteen. Therefore, her mother, Emma served as regent until Wilhelmina became of age in 1898.

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. Photo: Library of Congress (Public Domain), Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, LC-USW33-019080-D DLC]

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. Photo: Library of Congress (Public Domain), Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, LC-USW33-019080-D DLC]

It was also at this point that the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was transferred to Adolphe, Duke of Nassau. Adolphe was William’s seventeenth cousin and Emma’s maternal uncle. It was the Nassau Family Pact of the House of Nassau that required a male heir inherit the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which resulted in Adolphe becoming Grand Duke. He is the great-great-grandfather of Luxembourg’s current Grand Duke, Henri.

In 1908, Wilhelmina decreed that all of her descendants should be styled with the title Prince or Princess of Orange-Nassau. Her daughter, Juliana succeeded her as Queen of the Netherlands in 1948 after the former’s abdication. Juliana reigned until her own abdication in 1980, which resulted in her eldest daughter Beatrix becoming queen. Then Queen (now Princess) Beatrix abdicated on 30 April 2013 in favour of her son, now King Willem-Alexander.

King Willem - Alexander , Queen Maxima and Princess Beatrix after the announcement of abdication by Beatrix. Photo: Floris Looijesteijn (CC by 2.0) via Flickr

King Willem-Alexander , Queen Maxima and Princess Beatrix after the announcement of abdication by Beatrix. Photo: Floris Looijesteijn (CC by 2.0) via Flickr

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