Louise de Coligny was the fourth and last wife of William the Silent. She was born on 23 September 1555 at Castle Châtillon-sur-Long as the second child, but first daughter of Gaspard de Coligny and Charlotte de Laval. We don’t really know where she grew up, but she had four brothers and a half-sister.
She was just two-years-old when her father, an Admiral of France was captured by the Spanish. He was held for nearly two years and during those years he converted to Calvinism. By 1562 he and the Prince of Condé were in command of the Huguenot Army. Louise’s mother brought her and her siblings to the besieged city of Orléans where her mother cared for the wounded in the army hospitals. Her mother would die of typhoid just six years later. After her mother’s death, Louise spent some time at the court of Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, in her own right ,and a Calvinist.
At the age of 16 Louise married for the first time. The lucky man was Charles de Téligny, a young noble who served as a soldier and diplomat under her father. It was to be a short marriage. During the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris both her husband and her father were murdered. It is not known if Louise witnessed the murders.
Louise received an offer of marriage from William the Silent. The two had not even met. William had been a widower since May 1582. She agreed to marry him with the permission of the King of France and she arrived in the Netherlands on 8 April. The couple officially married in Antwerp on 12 April. Despite the cool reception of this fourth marriage, it would prove to be a happy one, though rather short.
On 29 January 1584, Louise gave birth to a son named Frederick Henry. He would be William’s fourth legitimate son but he too would inherit the Prince of Orange title in due time. Their happiness was short-lived. On 10 July 1584 William the Silent was assassinated in Delft by Balthasar Gerards. She was there when he was killed.
After William’s death, Louise received custody of four of William’s six daughters from his third marriage with Charlotte of Bourbon. Louise, her four stepdaughters, and her young son lived in Vlissingen. She was in deep financial trouble and it wasn’t until 1592 that she was granted an allowance by the States General. She was quite the matchmaker and she traveled to France to arrange marriages for two of her stepdaughters with French Huguenot nobles. She returned to France once more in 1598 to introduce her son at the French court. Louise remained in France for five years before returning to the Hague at last in 1603. She tried to divide her time between the two countries she felt closest to but France definitely was her absolute favourite. From 1605 to 1608, she again to live in France.
Louise became an important political link between the French Court and the Dutch Republic. She tried to mediate between Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, who preferred a peace with Spain and her stepson Maurice, who was against peace with Spain. In 1619, Louise begged her stepson Maurice to spare the life of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt but it was no use. He was executed 13 May 1619. In 1620 she decided to return to France for good. She stayed with Marie de’ Medici, the Queen mother in the Fontainebleau Palace. She died just a few months later on 13 November 1620 and her body was embalmed and returned to the Netherlands on 24 May 1621 to be interred with William the Silent.
Though she is perhaps best known as William the Silent’s wife, she flourished as a politician after his death. It’s a shame she isn’t better remembered for that, her one shining glory.
Photo Credit: Engraving of Louise de Coligny via Wikipedia [Public Domain].