William I of Orange (1533–1584)

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William I of Orange (15331584)

A Dutch noble who founded the dynasty of Orange-Nassau and led the revolt in the Netherlands against rule by Spain. Born in Nassau, a small principality in northern Germany, he was the son of Count William of Nassau, who had converted to Lutheranism. At the age of eleven he inherited the title of Prince of Orange. Although he now owned extensive properties in the Low Countries, he was too young to exercise any authority, and his domain was governed by the Habsburg emperor Charles V as regent. He trained as a cavalry officer and at a young age was given command of a unit in the Habsburg armies. On the abdication of Charles V, he was made governor of Holland and Burgundy by Philip II.

William's reluctance to speak out on the brewing political and religious turmoil in the Low Countries earned him the nickname of William the Silent. Nevertheless, he strongly opposed Habsburg domination of the nobility and favored the free exercise of religion for Protestants as well as Catholics. He eventually emerged as a leading opponent of Spain's brutal occupation. He retreated to his native Nassau, joined the revolt against the Spanish, and organized naval and ground forces to carry out commando raids on Spanish outposts. William won several victories against the Spanish armies, and his personal flag was adopted by the Dutch as the banner of their resistance movement.

After a key victory in 1572, the rebels organized a parliament and declared William their stadtholder, or governor. In 1579 several northern provinces declared the Union of Utrecht, and in 1581 the union officially declared its independence from the king of Spain. In 1584 he was assassinated by a Catholic partisan, Balthasar Gerard, in the town of Delft.

See Also: Netherlands; Philip II

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William I of Orange (1533–1584)

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