Today is the birthday (1533) of William I, Prince of Orange, also widely known as William the Silent or William the Taciturn (from Dutch: Willem de Zwijger), or more commonly as William of Orange (Willem van Oranje) in the Netherlands, which is a bit confusing for Brits because they know his great-grandson by that name as king of Great Britain. William the Silent was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish Habsburgs that set off the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) and resulted in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1581. He was born in the House of Nassau as Count of Nassau-Dillenburg. He became Prince of Orange in 1544 and is thereby the founder of the House of Orange-Nassau and the ancestor of the monarchy of the Netherlands. Within the Netherlands he is also known as Father of the Fatherland. (Vader des Vaderlands).
William was born in Dillenburg castle, then in the County of Nassau-Dillenburg, in the Holy Roman Empire (now in Hesse in Germany). He was the eldest son of William, Count of Nassau by his second wife Juliana of Stolberg-Werningerode. William’s father had one surviving daughter by his previous marriage, and his mother had four surviving children by her previous marriage. His parents had twelve children together, of whom William was the eldest; he had four younger brothers and seven younger sisters. The family was religiously devout and William was raised a Lutheran.
In 1544, William’s first cousin, René of Châlon, Prince of Orange, died childless. In his will, René of Chalon named William the heir to all his estates and titles, including that of Prince of Orange, on the condition that he receive a Roman Catholic education. William’s father acquiesced to this condition on behalf of his 11-year-old son, and this was the founding of the house of Orange-Nassau. Besides the principality of Orange (located today in France) and significant lands in Germany, William also inherited vast estates in the Low Countries (present-day Netherlands and Belgium) from his cousin. Because of his young age, Emperor Charles V, who was the overlord of most of these estates, served as regent until William was old enough to rule them himself.
William was sent to the Netherlands to receive the required Roman Catholic education, first at the family’s estate in Breda and later in Brussels, under the supervision of Mary of Hungary, governor of the Habsburg Netherlands (Seventeen Provinces). In Brussels, he was taught foreign languages and received a military and diplomatic education under the direction of Champagney (Jérôme Perrenot), brother of Granvelle.
On 6th July 1551, William married Anna van Egmond en Buren, daughter and heiress of Maximiliaan van Egmond, a Dutch nobleman. Anna’s father had died in 1548, and therefore William became Lord of Egmond and Count of Buren upon his wedding day. The marriage was a happy one and produced three children, one of whom died in infancy. Anna died on 24th March 1558.
Being a ward of Charles V and having received his education under the tutelage of the Emperor’s sister Mary, William came under the particular attention of the imperial family, and became a favorite. He was appointed captain in the cavalry in 1551 and received rapid promotion thereafter, becoming commander of one of the Emperor’s armies at the age of 22. This was in 1555, when Charles V sent him to Bayonne with an army to take the city in a siege from the French. William was also made a member of the Raad van State, the highest political advisory council in the Netherlands. It was in November of the same year (1555) that the gout-afflicted Emperor Charles V leaned on William’s shoulder during the ceremony when he abdicated his Spanish possessions in favor of his son, Philip II of Spain.
In 1559, Phillip appointed William as stadtholder (governor) of the provinces of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, thereby greatly increasing his political power. A stadtholdership over Franche-Comté followed in 1561.
Although he never directly opposed the Spanish king, William soon became one of the most prominent members of the opposition in the Council of State, together with Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn, and Lamoral, Count of Egmont. They were mainly seeking more political power for themselves against the de facto government of Count Berlaymont, Granvelle and Viglius of Aytta, but also for the Dutch nobility and, ostensibly, for the Estates, and complained that too many Spaniards were involved in governing the Netherlands. William was also dissatisfied with the increasing persecution of Protestants in the Netherlands. Brought up as a Lutheran and later a Catholic, William was very religious but was still a proponent of freedom of religion for all people. The activity of the Inquisition in the Netherlands, directed by Cardinal Granvelle, prime minister to the new governor Margaret of Parma (1522–83) (natural half-sister to Philip II), increased opposition to Spanish rule among the then mostly Catholic population of the Netherlands. Lastly, the opposition wished to see an end to the presence of Spanish troops.
According to the Apology, William’s letter of justification, which was published and read to the States General in December 1580, his resolve to expel the Spaniards from the Netherlands had originated when, in the summer of 1559, he and the Duke of Alva had been sent to France as hostages for the proper fulfillment of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis following the Hispano-French war. During his stay in Paris, on a hunting trip to the Bois de Vincennes, King Henry II of France started to discuss with William a secret understanding between Philip II and himself aimed at the violent extermination of Protestantism in France, the Netherlands “and the entire Christian world.” The understanding was being negotiated by Alva, and Henry had assumed, incorrectly, that William was aware of it. At the time, William did not contradict the king’s assumption, but he had decided for himself that he would not allow the slaughter of “so many honorable people,” especially in the Netherlands, for which he felt a strong compassion.
On 25th August 1561, William married for the second time. His new wife, Anna of Saxony, was described by contemporaries as “self-absorbed, weak, assertive, and cruel”, and it is generally assumed that William married her to gain more influence in Saxony, Hesse and the Palatinate. The couple had five children. Up to 1564, any criticism of governmental measures voiced by William and the other members of the opposition had ostensibly been directed at Granvelle. However, after the latter’s departure early that year, William, who may have found increasing confidence in his alliance with the Protestant princes of Germany following his second marriage, began to openly criticize the king’s anti-Protestant politics. In an iconic speech to the Council of State, William, to the shock of his audience, justified his conflict with Philip by saying that, even though he had decided for himself to keep to the Catholic faith, he could not agree that monarchs should rule over the souls of their subjects and take from them their freedom of belief and religion.
In early 1565, a large group of lesser noblemen, including William’s younger brother Louis, formed the Confederacy of Noblemen. On 5th April, they offered a petition to Margaret of Parma, requesting an end to the persecution of Protestants. From August to October 1566, a wave of iconoclasm (known as the Beeldenstorm) spread through the Low Countries. Calvinists (the major Protestant denomination), Anabaptists, and Mennonites, angered by Catholic oppression and theologically opposed to the Catholic use of images of saints (which in their eyes conflicted with the Second Commandment), destroyed statues in hundreds of churches and monasteries throughout the Netherlands.
Following the Beeldenstorm, unrest in the Netherlands grew, and Margaret agreed to grant the wishes of the Confederacy, provided the noblemen would help to restore order. She also allowed the more important noblemen, including William of Orange, to assist the Confederacy. In late 1566, and early 1567, it became clear that she would not be allowed to fulfil her promises, and when several minor rebellions failed, many Calvinists and Lutherans fled the country. Following the announcement that Philip II, unhappy with the situation in the Netherlands, would dispatch his loyal general Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba (also known as “The Iron Duke”), to restore order, William set aside his functions and retreated to his native Nassau in April 1567. He had been (financially) involved with several of the rebellions.
After his arrival in August 1567, Alba established the Council of Troubles (known to the people as the Council of Blood) to judge those involved in the rebellion and the iconoclasm. William was one of the 10,000 to be summoned before the Council, but he failed to appear. He was subsequently declared an outlaw, and his properties were confiscated. As one of the most prominent and popular politicians of the Netherlands, William emerged as the leader of armed resistance. From here it all gets yet more complicated, so I will leave you to look into the history for yourself, if you are interested. The religious wars of the 16th century in Europe are extraordinarily complicated. To a great extent, the ideological and theological wrangles that fueled the battles between Catholic and Protestant heads of states, and the struggles within Protestant factions, were a giant red herring. The religious wars were fundamentally about power, land, and wealth. William was caught in the middle of it all for his entire life. He did not help matters by alternately swearing allegiance to Catholic and Protestant traditions, nor by preaching religious toleration. He simply ended up creating enemies on all sides.
In July 1581, after seemingly interminable wars in the Low Countries, the Staten Generaal declared that they no longer recognized Philip II of Spain as their ruler, in the Act of Abjuration. This was a formal declaration of independence, although William still had struggles on his hands to establish the Netherlands as truly independent from the French, represented by the Duke of Anjou who claimed sovereignty. On 18th March, the Spaniard Juan de Jáuregui attempted to assassinate William in Antwerp. Although William suffered severe injuries, he survived thanks to the care of his wife Charlotte and his sister Mary. While William slowly recovered, Charlotte died on 5th May. The Duke of Anjou was not very popular with the population. The provinces of Zeeland and Holland refused to recognize him as their sovereign, and William was widely criticized for what was called his “French politics”. When Anjou’s French troops arrived in late 1582, William’s plan seemed to pay off, as even the Duke of Parma feared that the Dutch would now gain the upper hand.
However, Anjou himself was displeased with his limited powers and secretly decided to seize Antwerp by force. The citizens, who had been warned in time, ambushed Anjou and his troops as they entered the city on 18th January 1583, in what is known as the “French Fury”. Almost all of Anjou’s men were killed, and he was reprimanded by both Catherine de Medici and Elizabeth I of England (whom he had courted). Anjou’s position became untenable, and he subsequently left the country in June. His departure discredited William, who nevertheless maintained his support for Anjou. William stood virtually alone on this issue and became politically isolated. Holland and Zeeland nevertheless maintained him as their stadtholder and attempted to declare him count of Holland and Zeeland, thus making him the official sovereign. In the middle of all this, William married for the fourth and final time on 12th April 1583 to Louise de Coligny, a French Huguenot and daughter of Gaspard de Coligny. She was to be the mother of Frederick Henry (1584–1647), William’s fourth legitimate son.
The Burgundian Catholic Balthasar Gérard (born 1557) was a subject and supporter of Philip II, and regarded William of Orange as a traitor to the king and to the Catholic religion. In 1581, when Gérard learned that Philip II had declared William an outlaw and promised a reward of 25,000 crowns for his assassination, 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 two wheel-lock pistols on his return journey. On 10 July, he made an appointment with William in his home in Delft, now known as the Prinsenhof. That day, William was having dinner with his guest Rombertus van Uylenburgh. After William left the dining room and walked downstairs, van Uylenburgh heard Gérard shoot William in the chest at close range.The bullet holes are still visible in the wall:
Gérard fled immediately, but was captured and brutally executed. According to official records, William’s last words were:
Mon Dieu, ayez pitié de mon âme; mon Dieu, ayez pitié de ce pauvre peuple. (My God, have pity on my soul; my God, have pity on this poor people).
I originally thought that a recipe for speculaas (Dutch windmill cookies) would be good to celebrate the establishment of the Netherlands, because the wars under William, were one of the reasons that the Dutch separated from Spanish and French traders, and began seeking their own methods of trading for spices in the East Indies, and speculaas are heavily flavored with spices from Indonesia. However, digging around, I discovered I had already given a recipe here: https://www.bookofdaystales.com/global-wind-day/
I also note that a properly styled “Dutch cuisine” had not quite emerged at this point. In the 16th century dishes were shared quite widely across much of Europe. However, Lancelot de Casteau wrote Ouverture de cuisine in 1585 (published in 1604), and he was the master chef for three prince-bishops of Liège in the 16th century: Robert de Berghes, Gérard de Groesbeek, and Ernest of Bavaria. This cookbook is generally seen as a bridge between Medieval recipes and those of the new haute cuisine. It is obviously an eclectic cuisine. Here, first, is the recipe for sausages in soup (pottage):
Saulcisses en potage.
Prennez les saulsisses, & les fricassez en beurre, puis prennez quartre ou cinq pommes pellées & couppées par petits quartiers, & quartre ou cinq oignons couppez par rondes tranches, & les fricassez en beurre, & les mettez tout dedans vn pot auec les saulsisses, & mettez dedans noix muscade, canelle, auec vin blanc ou rouge, du succre, & le faictes ainsi esteuuer.
Sausages in pottage.
Take sausages, & fry them in butter, then take four or five peeled apples & cut into small quarters, & four or five onions cut into rings, & fry them in butter, & put all of them into a pot with the sausages, & put therein nutmeg, cinnamon, with red or white wine, sugar, & let them then all stew.
Having read this recipe I wondered what sausages were suitable. The book does not specify but gives this recipe for Boulogne sausages:
Pour faire saulsisse de Bologne.
Prennez six liures de chair de porc vn peu grasse, & la coupez par tranches,
& la mettez en vn drap, mettez la dans vne presse pour presser le sang dehors, & la laissez vne heure en presse tant que le sang soit tout dehors, puis la hacherés grossement, point trop menu, mettés dedans quatre onces de sel, vne
once de poiure, estampés grossement, vne once de canelle bien puluerisée par fin tamier, & meslés tout ensemble
auec le sel, & mettés dedans la chair, & prennez huict onces de vin d’Espaigne, & meslez le bien auec les mains vne demye heure, que tout soit bien encorporé dedans la chair, puis prennez des boyaux de boeuf selon la grosseur que voulés auoir les saulcisses, puis les emplissez de chair si fort que pouuez, & aiez vne grosse eplingue en main pour tousiours percer le boiau, afin qu’il ny ait point de vent dedans, & que la chair soit bien serrée, puis liés le boyau bien ferme dessus & dessous de la longueur que voulez auoir les saulcisses, puis ayez vn chaudron d’eau bouillante sur le feu, & faictes boulir les saulsisses dedans trois ou quatre bouillons, & les tirez dehors, puis les pendez a la cheminée cinq ou six iours tant qu ils soient bien seiches.
To make Boulogne sausage.
Take six pounds of slightly fatty pork, & cut into slices, & put in a cloth, put it in a press to squeeze out the blood, & let sit one hour in the press until the blood is all out, then chop it coarsely, not too small, put therein four ounces of salt, an ounce of pepper, grind coarsely, one ounce of cinnamon well powdered with a fine sieve, & mix all together with the salt, & put into the meat, & take eight ounces of Spanish wine, & mix it well by hand for a half hour, when all will be incorporated into the meat, then take beef intestines that are thicker than you want the sausage, then fill with the meat as hard as possible, & have a thick eplingue at hand for always piercing the intestine, at the end that doesn’t have any hole therein, & that the meat will be well compacted, then tie the intestine well closed thereon & thereon of the length that you want to have the sausage, then have a cauldron of boiling water on the fire, & put to boil the sausages in three or four boilings, & cut them apart, then hang them at the chimney five or six days until they are well dried.