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William the Silent

William the Silent

The Dutch statesman William the Silent (1533-1584), or William I, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau, led the revolt of the Low Countries against Spain and created the independent republic of the United Provinces.

A German nobleman by birth, William the Silent became the leader of a rebellion in the Netherlands against the king of Spain. Passionately devoted to the cause of the unity of the Netherlands, he saw the country dividing into distinct northern and southern states under the impact of military events and religious antagonisms. At various times a Lutheran, a Roman Catholic, and a Calvinist, William was most of all dedicated to Erasmian tolerance in religion; yet in the end he had to rely upon fanatical Calvinists in order to stand up to the assaults of conquering Spanish armies. A wealthy, luxury-loving noble in his younger years, he learned to live the meager life of an exile and rebel and came to love the Dutch people, high and low, for whom he gave his life and who loved him as Father of the Fatherland. Trying ceaselessly to persuade foreign princes to take over the sovereignty of the Low Countries in order to save it, he ended by becoming the founder of a free and independent Dutch republic, and only his assassination prevented Holland from making him its count.

Early Years

William was born on April 24, 1533, at Dillenburg, the ancestral castle of the Nassaus near Wiesbaden, Germany, to Count William of Nassau-Dillenburg and Juliana von Stolberg. His early life was one of simple comforts and close family affection—a rough and easy life in a castle in the countryside. His mother raised him as a Lutheran, but after he inherited the vast possessions of his cousin, René of Châlon-Nassau, in 1544 (including the principality of Orange and numerous baronies and manors in France and in the Low Countries), Emperor Charles V, as a condition of his receiving his heritage in the Netherlands, required that William come there in 1545 to be raised as a Roman Catholic.

Under the guidance of the regent, Mary of Hungary, William grew into a handsome young nobleman, elegant and well-spoken in French and Dutch as well as in his native German, and intelligent and at ease with people. He married a wealthy heiress, Anne of Egmont and Büren, in 1551, thus becoming the richest nobleman in the Netherlands. Charles V was particularly fond of him, and during his abdication at Brussels on Oct. 25, 1555, he rested his weary arms upon young Orange's shoulders.

Appointment as Stadholder

Given military commands in the war against France in 1555, William proved to have little talent as a warrior, but he clearly displayed political ability on diplomatic missions to Germany and in the peace negotiations at Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559. Philip II, who had inherited the Netherlands as well as Spain from Charles V, made William a member of the Council of State in 1555 and a knight of the Golden Fleece, the Burgundian chivalric order, in 1556. In 1558 Anne of Egmont and Büren, who had given him a son, Philip William, and a daughter, died. Philip II recognized William's preeminence among the nobility by making him stadholder of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht in 1559.

William's second marriage was to Anne, the daughter of Elector Maurice of Saxony; she was a Lutheran princess who was even wealthier than Anne of Egmont and Büren had been. This 1561 marriage was a sign that William was not a passive instrument of his sovereign. When he returned to Brussels from the wedding in Leipzig, William joined the counts of Egmont and Hoorn, his colleagues in the Council of State, in resistance to the centralizing absolutist policies of Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, who was Philip's principal agent in the Netherlands while Margaret of Parma, the King's half sister, acted as regent. They were able to compel the King, who depended upon them as the most influential persons in the country for effective government, to recall Granvelle in 1564. But Philip would make no concession in the matter of repression of Protestant heresy, although William, a nominal Roman Catholic at the time, strongly urged a policy of tolerance on the principle that men's consciences should not be forced. However, William was aware that his young brother, Louis of Nassau, was one of the leaders of the movement of the lower nobility to prevent enforcement of the ordinances introducing the Inquisition.

Opposition to the Duke of Alba

William was shocked by the "image-breaking" movement of fanatical Calvinists in 1566, which made Philip decide to replace Margaret of Parma with the Duke of Alba, who brought an army of Spanish regulars to the Low Countries in 1567 in order to crush all resistance to the King's will. William, forewarned of Alba's task of terror, resigned his offices and withdrew beyond the duke's reach into Germany, where from his refuge at Dillenburg he renewed efforts to thwart the suppression of the Netherlands. Military expeditions led by himself and by Louis of Nassau in 1568 failed in the face of Alba's superior generalship and the people's passivity. During the next 4 years, while Alba ruled the Netherlands without visible hindrance, William and his brother Louis spent their time, after a year in service with the French Huguenots under Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, in preparing to return to the struggle in the Low Countries.

In 1570 the secret resistance movement in Holland encouraged William to attempt another expedition against Alba, which also failed. However, in 1572, after the "Sea Beggars" had seized Brill, they attempted a second campaign in the southern Netherlands, which failed. William, whose hopes of help from the French Huguenots were dashed by their destruction in the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, thereupon decided to join the rebels in Holland and Zeeland "to find my grave there." These provinces, which continued to recognize William as their stadholder, thus maintaining the fiction that they were fighting not Philip II but only his general, Alba, became the base of William's new strategy of resistance. William became a Calvinist, although a moderate one, in order to hold the support of the most vigorous opponents of Spain, and he reorganized the governments of Holland and Zeeland upon the basis of the authority of their States, with himself as governor and commander. William was able to relieve Leiden in 1574 after a long siege, and he established a university there as the city's reward.

Pacification of Ghent

Also in 1574, William's marriage to Anne of Saxony, who had run off with another man and was obviously mentally unbalanced, was annulled, and in 1575 he married Princess Charlotte de Bourbon-Montpensier, who became an affectionate stepmother to his children. Negotiations in Breda for peace the same year with Luis de Lúñiga y Requesens, the Spanish commander, shortly before Requesens' death, failed over the question of religion. After a mutiny of Spanish troops in 1576, William was able to arrange an agreement among all the provinces, north and south, called the Pacification of Ghent, which enabled him to maintain their common resistance to Don John of Austria, the new governor general from Spain. He persuaded the Austrian archduke Matthias to accept appointment as governor general from the States General, but William's attempt to preserve the unity of the provinces failed due to the intransigence of religious extremists on both sides. The northern provinces, under the urging of his oldest brother, John of Nassau, joined together in the Union of Utrecht in January 1579, a union that William accepted reluctantly at first. Meanwhile Alessandro Farnese forged the almost simultaneous Union of Arras among Roman Catholics and Walloons in the opposite camp. The civil war resumed with new fury.

Last Years and Assassination

Philip II put William under the ban of outlawry in 1580, to which he replied in a bitter Apology. The States General abjured the sovereignty of Philip in 1581, and the French Duke of Alençon and Anjou was called in to take his place as a constitutional sovereign. An attempt upon William's life by Jean Jaureguy on March 18, 1582, almost succeeded; Princess Charlotte, who nursed him through a difficult recovery, died of overstrain. In January 1583 Anjou, revealing his true purpose of becoming an absolute lord in the Netherlands, unleashed his troops on Antwerp in the so-called French Fury, but he was saved from the revenge of the populace by William. That April, William married Louise de Coligny, a French Huguenot noblewoman, at Antwerp, and then moved his residence to Holland, despairing at last of keeping the Low Countries, though divided in religion, united against Spain.

During 1584 the States of Holland and Zeeland proposed to give William the title of count with limited powers, but he was slain on July 10 by Balthasar Gérard, a Roman Catholic from Franche-Comté, at the Prinsenhof in Delft before any action was taken. The last words attributed to him, "God, have pity on me and this poor people," expressed his devotion to the cause for which he had fought so long. This cause was to triumph, although not before 6 more decades had passed, under the leadership of his sons Maurice of Nassau and Frederick Henry, and then only in the northern provinces, which became the Dutch Republic. The United Provinces, which accepted the Union of Utrecht, constituted only a fragment of the Low Countries that he had sought to hold together. But it endured, became rich and powerful, and was the direct historical origin of the modern kingdom of the Netherlands (Holland).

Further Reading

As readable biographies, Frederic Harrison, William the Silent (1910; repr. 1970), and Ruth Putnam, William the Silent, Prince of Orange, and the Revolt of the Netherlands (1911), have been superseded by C. V. Wedgwood's brilliant William the Silent (1944). For historical background see Pieter Geyl, The Revolt of the Netherlands, 1555-1609 (1931; trans. 1932), and B. H. M. Vlekke, Evolution of the Dutch Nation (1945).

Additional Sources

Swart, K. W. (Koenraad Wolter), William the Silent and the revolt of the Netherlands, London: Historical Association, 1978. □

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William I

William I

William I (1772-1843) was king of the Netherlands from 1815 to 1840. He was one of the restored rulers of post-Napoleonic Europe whose power derived from no clearly settled precedent.

William I was born at The Hague on Aug. 24, 1772. His father was the Dutch stadholder (executive ruler) William V, Prince of Orange. In 1791 the younger William married his cousin, Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia; and in 1792 the couple had a son, who, as William II, succeeded his father as king of the Netherlands.

In the administrative system of the Dutch Republic (United Provinces of the Netherlands), inherited from the long revolutionary war against Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries, the office of stadholder played a prominent role in affairs. In the 18th century the formal power of the stadholder was greatly augmented. But the strengthening of the executive power in the hands of traditional Orangeist leadership was by no means sufficient to halt the gradual decline of the Netherlands into weak-power status. William V, a rigid conservative, ruled with an iron hand, using Prussian troops to put down the native revolutionary Patriot movement (1787). But when the French Revolution began to spill across the borders of its homeland, William V, his son, and his grandson were forced to flee the Netherlands into English exile.

The younger William at first showed liberal tendencies in marked contrast to the autocratic temperament of his father. In 1802 both men returned to Europe, the elder to take up residence in the family's hereditary estates in Nassau, the younger to German territories granted him as a favor by Napoleon. The father's death in 1806 left William the title of Prince of Orange (as William VI) and the Nassau lands. But his switch to the Prussian side against Napoleon in the same year deprived him of all his holdings and turned him into a pensioner of the Prussian court.

In 1813, however, the French pulled out of the Netherlands, to which William returned first as "sovereign prince," then as king (March 16, 1815). His original grant of territory made him sovereign not only of the former United Provinces but of Belgium and Luxembourg as well. The restoration that reunited, if briefly, those territories which had once coexisted in tenuous unity under their Burgundian and Hapsburg overlords until the Dutch Revolution and partial Spanish reconquest, set them on different historical paths.

This history of separation—rather than any semimythical Netherlandish unity—was to prove William's undoing. The joining of the Netherlands to Belgium upset the linguistic balance in the latter country, antagonizing the French-speaking Walloons of the south. Religious tensions in the Low Countries, long divided by the Reformation, were also aggravated. Although not as conservative as his father, William ruled as a restored enlightened despot rather than as the liberal monarch his subjects desired. In 1830, the year which ended the restoration regime in France, Belgium successfully broke away from its northern ruler; but William I learned little from this experience. He continued his opposition to liberal demands, and on Oct. 7, 1840, he was forced to abdicate in favor of his son. William once again retreated to Prussia, where he died in Berlin on Dec. 12, 1843.

Further Reading

Two general surveys of Dutch history are G. J. Renier, The Dutch Nation (1944), and B. H. M. Vlekke, Evolution of the Dutch Nation (1945). Practically all significant historical and biographical literature on the Netherlands is in the Dutch language; but for a brilliant synthesis of modern Dutch history down to William's reign see Charles H. Boxer, The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600-1800 (1965). □

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William I

William I

William I (1797-1888) was king of Prussia from 1861 to 1888 and emperor of Germany from 1871 to 1888. He was the first of the three Hohenzollern rulers of the German Empire of 1871-1918.

Born in Berlin on March 22, 1797, William I was the second son of Prussian king Frederick William III and Queen Luise. William spent much of the Napoleonic Wars as a somewhat sickly refugee in Konigsberg, Memel, and St. Petersburg. He participated in the 1813-1814 War of Liberation, gaining an Iron Cross for action at Bar-sur-Aube and being promoted to general major on his twenty-first birthday.

After a brief "forbidden romance" with Princess Elizabeth Radziwill, in 1829 William wed the lively Princess Augusta of Saxe-Weimar, with whom he enjoyed a happy marriage despite habitual arguments. William became heir presumptive in 1840 on the accession of his childless brother, Frederick William IV. This fact, and his military conservatism, made William the "Cartridge Prince," whom the revolutionaries of 1848 hounded from Berlin to a diplomatic refuge in England. He returned in a few months, advocating order and enforcing it in an 1849 "campaign" against rebels in the Palatinate, where military administration brought William promotion to field marshal in 1854.

William became deputy sovereign in 1857 and regent in 1858 for his expiring brother, whom he succeeded on Jan. 2, 1861. The authoritarian policy and advisers of the new reign soon created a constitutional crisis. William sought to conscript a larger regular army to support his foreign policy, while pursuing a progressive "new era" in domestic politics. This united only the Landtag opponents of the military budget. War Minister Albrecht von Roon persuaded William to appoint Otto von Bismarck as minister president in 1862, and thenceforth Bismarck's skill as a diplomatist soon made him so indispensable that his right to advise William became in effect a power to rule in the King's name.

William presided over, without directing or controlling, the political and military conflicts by which Bismarck and chief of staff Count Moltke drove Austria from the German Confederation (1866) and then led the remaining German states to victory over Napoleon III (1870). The united Deutsches Reich under Kaiser William was acclaimed at Versailles on Jan. 18, 1871, during the siege of Paris. William regarded his new title as a burden of doubtful value and complained that "it is very difficult being Kaiser under a Chancellor like Bismarck." However, Bismarck was kept as chancellor to the end of William's long reign.

The new German Empire needed more modern institutions of government than the old kaiser could develop or tolerate. This proved a misfortune for his successors, Frederick III and William II, as well as for Germany, but William's generation was content to understand "German freedom" simply as national independence. The diplomatic effort to preserve this by averting another war consumed the old king's declining years. The last hours before his death on March 9, 1888, were expended in royal monologues on foreign policy, and the dying monarch rejected suggestions that he rest with the ironic retort, "I have no time to be tired now."

Further Reading

A full-length study of William I in English is Paul Wiegler, William the First (1927; trans. 1929). See also Walter H. Nelson, The Soldier Kings (1970), and Theo Aronson, The Kaisers (1971). For historical background see Golo Mann, The History of Germany since 1789 (trans. 1968), and Hajo Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, 1840-1945 (1969). □

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William the Silent

William the Silent or William of Orange (William I, prince of Orange), 1533–84, Dutch statesman, principal founder of Dutch independence.

Early Life

A descendant of the Ottonian line of Nassau, he was born at Dillenburg, near Wiesbaden, Germany, of Protestant parents. After inheriting (1544) the holdings of the branch of the Nassau family in the Low Countries and the principality of Orange in S France, William was reared a Roman Catholic at the insistence of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, whose favorite page he became. In 1555 he was made stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht.

Struggles with Spain

William ably served Philip II of Spain as a diplomat, particularly in the making of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559), but Philip's encroachments on the liberties of the Netherlands and the introduction of the Spanish Inquisition by Cardinal Granvelle led William to turn against the king. In 1563, with the help of counts Egmont and Hoorn, he succeeded in obtaining the removal of Granvelle, but under the regency of Margaret of Parma disorders grew in the Netherlands.

In 1566 the party of the Gueux was organized with William's connivance, and when Alba was sent to the Netherlands to quell the rebels, William withdrew to Germany. When he refused Alba's summons to appear before a tribunal, his property was confiscated. William and his brother Louis of Nassau raised an army to drive the Spanish out of the Netherlands. They at first met defeat, but in 1576 the provinces of the Netherlands, taking advantage of the mutiny of the Spanish army under John of Austria, united under William's leadership in the Pacification of Ghent for the purpose of expelling the Spanish. In 1573, chiefly for the sake of policy, William had become a Calvinist.

The struggle with Spain continued. The Union of Utrecht (1579) proclaimed the virtual independence of the northern provinces, of which William was the uncrowned ruler, but the victories of the Spaniards under Alessandro Farnese forced William to seek French support by offering (1580) the rule over the Netherlands to Francis, duke of Alençon and Anjou. Philip II denounced William as a traitor, and a high price was set on his head in 1581.

William replied with his famous Apologia, in which he not only sought to vindicate his own conduct, but hurled violent accusations at the Spanish king. In the same year the representatives of Brabant, Flanders, Utrecht, Gelderland, Holland, and Zeeland solemnly declared Philip deposed from sovereignty over those provinces. William's support of the unpopular Francis resulted in the wane of William's own popularity during his last years. He was assassinated at Delft by a French Catholic fanatic, while the struggle against Spain was still in a critical stage.

Wives and Heirs

William married four times. His first wife was Anne of Egmont and Buren (d. 1558); in 1561 he married Anne, daughter of Elector Maurice of Saxony, in spite of the opposition of Philip II and of Anne's parents; in 1575, two years before Anne's death, he married Charlotte de Bourbon, a French princess and a runaway nun, after securing the approval of several Protestant divines; in 1583 he married Louise de Coligny, daughter of Admiral Coligny. From the first marriage Prince Philip William of Orange (d. 1616) was born; from the second and fourth marriages issued William's successors as stadtholders—Maurice of Nassau and Frederick Henry.

Bibliography

See biography by C. V. Wedgwood (1944, repr. 1967).

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William I (king of the Netherlands)

William I, 1772–1843, first king of the Netherlands and grand duke of Luxembourg (1815–40), son of Prince William V of Orange, last stadtholder of the Netherlands. He commanded (1793–95) the Dutch army in the French Revolutionary Wars, and after the French occupation of the Netherlands he entered the Prussian and later the Austrian service. He returned to the Netherlands in 1813, and the Congress of Vienna gave him (1815) the title king of the Netherlands. His kingdom comprised present Belgium as well as the Netherlands, and he was awarded the grand duchy of Luxembourg in compensation for his family holdings in Germany, which he ceded to Prussia. William soon alienated his Belgian subjects by attempting to make Dutch the official language, by granting disproportionate influence to the northern provinces, and by encroaching on the freedom of the Roman Catholic Church. Political unrest in Belgium led to the revolution of 1830, which he stubbornly sought to suppress despite the intervention of England and France (see London Conference). Belgium won its independence, but final recognition by William came only in 1839. When his Dutch subjects forced him to liberalize the constitution in 1840, he abdicated in favor of his son William II. Through his rule as an enlightened despot, William fostered the development of Dutch agriculture, commerce, and industry.

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William I (king of Württemberg)

William I, 1781–1864, king of Württemberg (1816–64), son and successor of Frederick I. Before his accession he fought (1812) with the French emperor Napoleon I in Russia and later, when Frederick I had broken his alliance with France, William served with the anti-French forces (1814–15). As king, William granted a constitution in 1819, strove to protect the rights of the smaller German states against both Austria and Prussia, and promoted the Zollverein, the German customs union.

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William I

William I ( the Silent) (1533–84) Prince of Orange, leader of the revolt of the Netherlands against Spanish rule. In 1572, he became the leader of a broad coalition in the Low Countries that opposed Spanish rule on the principle of religious tolerance. It broke down in 1579, when the Catholic s provinces, seeking reconciliation with Spain, broke away. William continued as leader of the n provinces until he was assassinated in Delft.

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